By this point is should come as no small surprise that I’m a fan of story. One of the inspirations I often draw on comes from the (probably obvious) Mass Effect games. While this may seem like a no-brainer, there are a few isolated elements of the way that BioWare tells their stories that jumps out to me. Mass Effect is well known for it’s epic AAA story arcs but despite all the impressive visuals and far reaching missions, I found myself caring very little whether I saved the world or not. What kept me coming back was trying to learn more about my crew.
Don’t get me wrong, the setup for these games and first 25% is always amazing. They hook you in with cinematic experiences and make you feel like a total bad ass. But as with most games, there comes a point where you start playing to just see how the game ends. When I hit that point, I already felt pretty confident that we were going to save the world. Again. What kept me coming back night after night was digging into the side missions and learning what made my crew the flawed heroes they were.
The classic reference point for the first game comes on the Virmire mission. The sequence that forces you to choose which of your crew to leave behind was one of the first times in a game where I felt palpable tension and I really didn’t know what to do. Not because I wanted to keep the person with the most firepower or best stats. But because I honestly didn’t want to choose. These were the characters I had known the longest, they were there from the start of the game. And now I had to choose who would live and who would die. I was angry at the game in the same way I am when movie kills one of my favorite characters. It was the proverbial KHAAAN moment.
This is when it dawned on me. Compelling stories need a good backbone but what really grabs you and twists in your gut is when you have to make emotional decisions about other people. Not about the fate of humanity, but about the one or two people standing next to you. *That’s* what I want to capture in my games.
Of course getting to that point takes a lot of character development. I am curious to see how the system we’re developing allows players the space to get to know someone without the traditional gameplay spacers that most of these big budget titles have. We’re not building this to have the same combat missions, platforming puzzles, or even point-and-click puzzles to space out dialogue. Will we be able to create enough content that players can feel a naturally growing affinity for the computer characters on the screen? Only time will tell but if we can even come remotely close, it will be a victory.
And if we can throw in a few light hearted moments along the way, all the better