Survival, morals, relationships and enemies – Mac Walters, Andromeda’s Creative director, is here to spill the beans
The Mass Effect trilogy was a huge success, but Andromeda breaks away from those games and stands alone to a certain extent. What does that mean in terms of telling a story? Is it a bit of blank slate for you? That’s a good question. We were very intentional when we started this to make sure that this was going to be a fresh start, not just for our fans, but for the developers. I think for me, one of the things I really enjoyed about working on MassEffect1 was the sense that anything was possible. The further we went into the trilogy, the more we had to stay aligned with the choices and decisions that we’d made earlier on.
And so we really wanted to create an opportunity for the developers of this game to get back to that sort of blue-sky place where obviously we’re going to build on things that our fans love, and we’re going to make sure those carry forward, but also being able to re-envision them in a way. And really get the story to a point where anyone playing it doesn’t necessarily need to have played Mass Effect before. Everybody starts basically with the same objective: you’re in Andromeda, your goal is to a) survive, and b) find a home for humanity in a really dangerous alien galaxy.
At the same time, if you are an existing fan, we wanted to be able to show a lot of the things you love in a fresh and new way, I think Peebee’s a good example of that, in the sense that we knew we were going to have to teach new players about what Asari are, but rather than using someone who is like Liara, who is the archetypal Asari, we almost went in the opposite direction. So, we described Asari by creating one who’s almost the opposite of what most Asari are [and] it allows us to tell those stories in fresh new ways. You can find yourself as a developer sometimes looking back at what worked really well, rather than at times looking forward to what else is possible. I think that’s something that was really important. It’s clear that the conversation system has seen something of an overhaul, and the Paragon and Renegade system has gone. Could you describe the new system for us a little, and tell us what you were trying to achieve by making those changes as well. So, Paragon and Renegade is gone, the reason they’re gone is because they felt very Shepard – they were very tied to the Shepard character, so they didn’t really make sense if we weren’t going to have Shepard as our protagonist. But part of it is also the fact that the core team that worked on the original Mass Effect was basically the StarWars:
KnightsOfTheOldRepublic team, where light-side and dark-side decisions were a thing, right? And people really enjoyed that in KOTOR and that’s why we picked it up in Mass Effect. But as we’ve progressed in the trilogy, we’ve found people seem to enjoy the more grey decisions. Not just the “are you evil? Are you good?” kind of thing.
What we have now is based more around agreeing and disagreeing. The reason I like that is because in the trilogy it’s like “I’m gonna play Paragon”, and then you know which way you’re moving the stick on every conversation. You don’t have to think about it, because you’re just going to hit Paragon every time. With agree and disagree it changes by the circumstance and it changes by the character you’re talking to, so you have to actually be more engaged in what’s going on, to know if you’re going to do that.
And in addition to that, we’ve added in four tones and we’ll talk a little more in the future, but they basically allow other types of characters to express them in one of four different ways, and sometimes one of two different ways. And I think that gets back to that more traditional role-playing sort
of feeling which is less about “do I want to be good or bad?”, and more about “how do I want to express myself?” BioWare’s been talking a lot about the sense of adventure it wants players to feel in Andromeda. How do you implement that while preserving the high-stakes feel of a game like Mass Effect 2, for instance?
Andromeda is definitely meant to be somewhat more of an adventurous game. Your crew is a little bit younger, and the way I put it was, MassEffect1, in the first 90 seconds, you learn that every 50,000 years this entire galaxy gets wiped out. So the stakes are raised really, really high right from the get-go. And one of the issues with that is, we’d always fight this sense of “well, I’m supposed to be saving the galaxy, but this character over here wants me to help them with their relationship. How do I justify that in the grand scheme of things, when the galaxy is about to be wiped out?”.
So we want to have high stakes, and there are high stakes in the sense that if you don’t succeed in your role, that’s it for humanity, and potentially every other species that came from the Milky Way in Andromeda. But we also don’t have to go right to raising the stakes to – you know, two hours in “hey, you’ve got this best friend and this best friend, which one do you want to die and which one do you want to survive?”
We don’t have to go that high, because the overall stakes are a little bit lighter in the sense that we want people to feel like they have the opportunity to explore, we want them to feel like, you know what, there’s this whole planet that’s got its whole separate story which feels tied to the critical path, but it’s not crucial to my success in the critical path necessarily. I want to be able to enjoy it, I just want to go off and do that, and not feel like I’m turning my back on people or humanity or anything like that. Loyalty missions are back this time around, which is fantastic news. Why did they go? Why are they back? And how will they differ from the ones we saw in Mass Effect 2? Love it – precise questions. I can answer all of those. Why did they go? The easy reason for that was that in ME3 our goal was to bring back everybody who was a squad member ever, assuming that they were alive in your playthrough. To then wrap a mission around each one of those was just a no-go. It also didn’t feel like it meshed with the overall context of a galaxy at war. In ME3, it was that fighting of “hey, the Reapers are here, can you help me go deal with my Dad?” It just didn’t really make sense, whereas in
ME2, obviously the entire thing was: build a suicide squad, and go on a suicide mission. As for why we brought them back in Mass
Effect:Andromeda, well first of all, they were a fan favourite, but it also seemed like it fit more with that sense of adventure. But also we knew we’d be introducing all new characters, so this was a great way to allow people to engage with those characters that they know and love. To me, the story is always important, but really without the characters, it all just falls flat. It’s what’s going on with those characters that matters. So, bringing it back worked that way.
As far as how they’re different: I think in a lot of ways they’re similar, obviously this isn’t a story about a suicide mission, so there’s that difference immediately, the narrative context for it, and also it’s less about conflict and more about getting to know the characters and their reasons for why they came to Andromeda, and what they hoped to find. And building more into the whole story of establishing a new home for humanity. Last of all, we wanted to touch on the Kett. The Reapers were these uncaring space monsters, but the Kett seem a little more nuanced. Would you be able to introduce them to us a little and maybe give us an insight into what their motivations are? Yeah, I’m not going to get too much into the details of it, but I will say I think that’s a good word, nuanced. I think what we wanted to do with the Kett was create a clear and obvious enemy. I think that was important for us off the bat, but as you – like many things in a Mass Effect game – dive into it a bit more, as you spend more time with it, you realise they’re maybe not all as bad as you thought.
Clearly there’s some bad apples here, and you have to deal with them, but what does that mean for the rest of Andromeda? What does it mean for the other Kett? And we even have a whole separate storyline, we have these things called ‘b-stories’, because they actually traverse multiple planets and follow you throughout the course of the game, wherever you go. And one of them is devoted entirely to the main antagonist in the game, and some of the conflicts he’s even been having with his own people.
“Peebee is the opposite of what most Asari are, and this allows us to tell stories in fresh new ways for fans of the series”