The latest in GameSpot’s documentary series explores the story behind Mass Effect: Andromeda and its developer BioWare Montreal. As part of this video feature, we travelled to Boston and spoke to various members of the development team, ranging from studio executives and writers, to designers and creative directors.
While some of these interviews are featured in The Story of Mass Effect: Andromeda, a great deal of the interview material was unused. In light of this, we decided to publish each of the interviews in full and make them available to anyone interested in reading more about the development of the game.
The interview below features Fabrice Condominas, producer on Mass Effect: Andromeda. Further interviews are available through the links.
Mass Effect: Andromeda Interviews
- BioWare Montreal Studio Director Yanick Roy Interview
- Mass Effect Franchise Creative Director Mac Walters Interview
- Mass Effect: Andromeda Producer Michael Gamble Interview
- Mass Effect: Andromeda Level Designer and Space Lead Jessica Campbell Interview
- Mass Effect: Andromeda Producer Fabrice Condominas Interview
- Mass Effect: Andromeda Lead Designer Ian Frazier Interview
- Mass Effect: Andromeda Level Designer Chris Corfe Interview
- Mass Effect: Andromeda Lead Writer Cathleen Rootsaert Interview
GameSpot: First could you just introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your experience or history with Mass Effect?
Fabrice Condominas: Sure, my name is Fabrice Condominas. I’m a Mass Effect producer at BioWare Montreal. I joined BioWare… I don’t know, five or six years ago. I don’t count anymore, but [it was] at the beginning of Mass Effect 3, and I’ve been there since.
You’re very much like us, you got to experience the first two games as an outsider.
What were your first experiences with Mass Effect and what did you think of it back then?
As most of the people at BioWare, I fell in love with the game. The one for all the field exploration, it was just something different at the time, and it was also a different approach to science fiction, the place of humanity was different. A lot of things were different, so I loved it, regardless of how clumsy some parts were. That didn’t matter because… [it was] one of those games that makes you realize the experience matters; the rest doesn’t really matter. That was key.
And then Mass Effect 2, I think the learning for me–I was already working in video games and all that and interested in that–so the learning for me was how important to remain bold and innovative was as a franchise. When you see how Mass Effect 1 was a success, everybody will tell you it was a great game, and still they had, as a studio, the courage to say, “Well, let’s redo the gameplay entirely,” and that kind of thing. But yeah, I was a big fan of the two first Mass Effect [games] and again, as most of our team that joined BioWare, they’re actually fans of the game.
You talked about innovation; what do you think the lasting impact of the first Mass Effect was on the industry and RPGs as a genre. What was it that it brought that made it memorable and stand out from all the other games that were coming out?
I actually think it goes beyond the industry. It changes partially the science fiction world in pop culture because the approach for me wasn’t only about being a space opera and even the exploration part. All that was about execution, how it was made, and that was the interesting part, but beyond that is the approach of the place of humanity, the role he plays in a galactic world with different alien races. Most of the time science fiction is about an encounter–usually hostile–between humanity, who is either a dominant race or the weakest point in Mass Effect, in that universe–suddenly you were neither one or the other: You were just a mediocre race amongst all of the race. There were way more powerful races and were weaker races, and you were just in the middle of that, and basically, no one really cared about humanity. I think that was an interesting approach. That grabbed me for science fiction.
If we talk specifically about the industry, the blend of the RPG and the mechanics that the Mass Effect 1 still has but it also starts to open the door to mixing more of the genre. We saw that since KotOR, basically, when BioWare did that and we see that trajectory throughout the industry that I think now led to a lot of games that we see. Whatever the dominant genre they’re in, you can see the mix. You can see the blend. I think those games like Mass Effect open the door to those changes.
Interesting what you said about not really caring about humanity’s place within the world. It feeds into the idea of what Mass Effect 1 was about–the exploration–if you’re too important the focus is too much on you and not the world around you. How does that design principle translate to Andromeda?
I think first, there’s a difference between Ryder senior and the siblings. Ryder senior is already an N7, so he’s obviously someone that matters, and he’s part of the Initiative and all that. As his son and daughter, the twins are different. They don’t have that credibility yet, and as a son and daughter of famous people, they’re actually probably trying to get away [from] that father figure. That all depends on the choices you want to make. You can try to get away or not. The relation is not the same to your own importance, and you will be proposed in that position during the game.
Already as a player, the character that you play is a bit different. I think that’s an important part of it because, at all levels in that game, you grow with the characters, so when you reach Andromeda, you don’t really know anything about the galaxy or what you thought you know in the characters is actually not true. The player and the character has the exact same level of knowledge in that galaxy, and you will learn with them, and you will discover with them. There’s no difference of knowledge, which also put that in a very specific position, both the character and the player. Again, just an idea of what narrative when you reach the galaxy, well things don’t go as planned, and things aren’t only what you thought they were, so you’re back to square one.
Keep in mind also that the conflict is very different. Even if you’re someone of importance for humanity; you, your father, and actually any single person in those Arks is someone of importance, so you’re already in the middle of a crowd of someone of importance for humanity. It doesn’t matter in Andromeda. You’re a nobody in Andromeda. You’re actually the intruder, so that entire narrative’s context builds up to that, that if you want to make [a] difference, you’ll have to work for it.
I really like the idea of calling the Ryder family and also the people that you bring with you “intruders.” How do you come up with the idea for that theme of being an intruder, being an outsider looking in now, whereas, in previous games and a lot sci-fi genre stuff is about you being a hero or some sort of catalyst for a major change, instead of being just this outsider who’s trying to figure out what’s going on around them?
I think, again, the theme of the Mass Effect franchise has always been the place of humanity. As I mentioned, humanity’s not necessarily central to what happens, and so the theme came also from there, if you wanted to push that further. If you look, this is actually the main question of the entire game: how do you find your place? When you reach Andromeda, not only are you an intruder, but, again, if you take the classic science fiction schemes, you’re not the weakest part, you’re not the strongest part. You’re actually in-between, so the races that are there, some of them are way more powerful than you are. Some of them are at least as powerful. There’s no really weaker point, but they might need you.
The entire game, outside of finding a home for the people in the Arks and all that is just finding your place. That question is even more obvious when you’re the stranger, right? When you are the alien, and this is, again, if I pursue the theme of humanity and science fiction, one of the twists we wanted to give to the game is that you are the alien. We are the alien. Usually we always look at aliens as the people that come or the people we reach, but in this game, it’s neither one or the other. You’re the alien. You will be treated as an alien, and you will discover what it is on the other side of the coin.
Do you think in a way that’s integral to the BioWare experience in that your characters typically are outsiders that band together? Now going into a new galaxy you’re again the outsiders, so unconsciously were you guys trying to think it was another way of telling everyone that it’s okay to be different? It’s okay to find your place?
This is interpretation, so I don’t want to dictate an interpretation, but it’s one thing science fiction has always been about historically–it’s not about the future, it’s about interpretations of the society now. That’s the context that we push forward, but it’s about our modern society. Even if you started working in this game five years ago, it was number of questions around the refugees and all that. If you look what happens now when the game is actually out, I think it’s even more relevant in that context. Now, how do you want to interpret what we do, that’s up to you. I don’t want dictate a sense to that, but obviously this, again, if you work in science fiction, you look closely at what happens around you.
You were talking about being outsiders and trying to find a new place for yourself and that kind of theme. It’s a theme that’s also reflected in the development staff at the studio. What was the mood in coming to develop Andromeda and knowing that you’ve got a diverse set of different people trying to work to figure out the future of a franchise that is beloved and is massive to so many people? Did you put yourself in there almost a little bit because that theme is reflected between you and the game, almost?
Yeah, I think, for some part, yes. In general, the other main theme was to do a fresh start, and yes, you can expand that general narrative, to the game, and probably to the team. There’s a lot of things that you mentioned that is fresh, but even our engine was a fresh start. You can go there, not only in the game, you’re right, in the development process and all that, there’s a number of things that we actually change, and I think it does reflect the game, that approach. Even the characters, you can see how they carry that mission to find a new place to establish humanity and all that. Obviously, you can push that interpretation to where how the team looks to keep going with that legacy and establish the fresh new stuff for the legacy of the trilogy and a very, very beloved franchise and all that. Yes, you can absolutely make parallels with that. It’s probably unconsciously or consciously for some of them. It’s clear that there is a link between the situation.
After Mass Effect 3 shipped, a lot of the team seems to have gone on to BioWare’s new mysterious IP. What made you come back for Andromeda? What was it about Mass Effect that you hold so dear that you’ll spend five, seven years of your life on it?
Firstly, [it] depends where you are in BioWare. They [didn’t] necessarily [go] to the new IP. A lot of them went to Dragon Age, for example; Montreal was mostly on Dragon Age: Inquisition, so the split was actually fairly broad across Montreal.
Mass Effect is a rich, deep universe, and I think there was no questioning that there will be more stories in that universe. We are a company of storytellers. When you build [a] universe that open to any kind of story, anywhere in that universe, why wouldn’t you use it? [It] wasn’t even a question to say, “We need to get in that universe and go deeper.” And then it was important to go away, not stay to close from the trilogy, because I think you want to open the universe as a whole. The trilogy did that, put the basic fundamentals of an entire universe that could be explored for years and years. There’s so many stories to tell in that universe. The important [part] was to place the pillars, and the blend between action and RPG. The importance of the character relationships, the role of space, and the notion of space opera, and the place of humanity; that will never change in any story you tell in Mass Effect so far. There’s no reason to do that. That’s Mass Effect, but it was obvious there was way, way more stories to tell.
The process started, and a group of people thinking about Inquisition or the new IP, they also explored new things, so Inquisition was probably the first BioWare game to be more open so you learn things there, and you keep going. I think every BioWare team has all of our franchises where they work because the rich universe and they have the way we tell stories have some common points and also some important differences between the franchise. It’s the same team working on one another’s, so we keep all that in mind regardless of which game you’re working, you keep the next franchise in mind when you do that.
We talked briefly about how you felt about Mass Effect 1, and I’d like to do the same for Mass Effect 2 because I love the idea that you were a fan before you worked on the series. That’s something that I find really cool, and I guess the audience will really appreciate that. Can you talk about your experience with Mass Effect 2? Obviously, it’s a game that so many people hold dear. What did it mean to you when it came out and played it, and how did it factor into your ambition to work in games or developing games? What did it mean to you?
To answer properly that question, you need to understand with my personal background. I’m actually from movies. I have a diploma in film school, and I did a number of short movies, documentaries, music videos; anything in audiovisual, I did that for years. But the way I came to storytelling was across movies.
Then, life happens, I got [a] job when I’m young and need money, and I got a job with video games. Someone called me and said, “There’s this big video game company. They’re looking for someone creative to write scenarios and all that. Do you want to try for just two or three months?” I say, “Oh, what kind of video games? I actually have no idea how you do that,” and the answer was, “Oh, they don’t either.” That was that time when nobody knew what they were doing in the late 90s, [there was] no school for video games, and it’s like, “Okay.” I went there, and that’s how I started in video games, but the fact is I always have both views.
I always kept in mind, and I always looked very closely at obviously BioWare games because the quality of the storytelling. Companies like Quantic Dream already at the time because of the quality of the cinematics, and the way they actually try to go towards an interactive storytelling mode, so I had that in mind. I think Mass Effect 2 is probably one of the first to blend that nearly perfectly. They give you the emotional bond and impact of character relationship at an intimate level but presented it in a attractive way. You have to choose the character. You do that. You choose the type of emotion. You develop with the characters, and you like them or hate them. Suddenly, the possibilities becomes nearly endless on the player’s perspective. For me, that was when it was the closest to the quality of the immersional bond of an intense two-hour experience. That’s what [a] movie offers; it goes fast, it’s intense, and it creates those bonds, at the same time, the length and the choices offered by the video game industry. It was nice blending, and I think that’s what really struck me at the time for Mass Effect 2.
As someone who was a fan, you perhaps more than anyone else on the team were probably aware of the responsibility of taking on a Mass Effect game, right? Going from 2 to 3 was a big deal. You’re following up one of the greatest games of all time, but going from the ending of the Mass Effect game to restarting a Mass Effect series, have you thought about that responsibility and how have you dealt with managing that? I imagine it must be incredibly stressful and overwhelming.
Yeah obviously at the beginning, when people tell you, “You’ll be part of the guys who build the next Mass Effect. You’ll have an important role in that.” Yes, you have the weight of the legacy, and as you said I had also a fan relationship over it, a more emotional relationship that is not necessarily on the development side. You don’t want to be the guy who screwed up Mass Effect, obviously. Yeah sure, I don’t want that, but at the same time, you need to put that away fairly quickly, and that’s when you do that. Yes, you got a period where you’re like, “Okay, what’s going on? How do we do that?” You replay the games, but at some point, you just have to sit and stop.
I know the trilogy. I know the universe. In my case, I also worked on Mass Effect 3, so that’s probably be even easier than people who just jumped on Andromeda. I went through a development cycle of Mass Effect, and you have to say, “Okay. Forget it,” because one thing Mass Effect is about between Mass Effect 1, 2, 3, is change. Those games change. You don’t do the same game, and this time you want to push that further, so you know your basics. You have to trust yourself and be confident that you know the fundamentals. You know the basics, but what is important is focus on the story, focus on the characters, focus on what you’re bringing to gameplay next. That’s the only way to make a good game. If you look in the past continuously, not only it will hinder your progress, but it’s also not Mass Effect.
Again, Mass Effect 2 is very different than Mass Effect 1. Mass Effect 3 is different than 2. The heart of the franchise actually helped move forward and say, “Mass Effect is about looking forward.” Then it’s a balance, right? You have veterans like Mac Walters, Mike Gamble, myself. You’ve got several people, and then the new guys, completely new, who also bring their own perspective saying, “Well, hang on.” I played the entire trilogy, so I work on 3 again, so they played actually the entire trilogy as players, and they say, “Well the thing I remember is the Mako. It was clumsy, it wasn’t all that, but man, I have fond memories of the Mako.” Suddenly for people like us, we’ll say, “Oh, okay. We thought it was clumsy. Maybe we should think about it,” and that kind of thing.
So it’s very much a case of allowing these new-blood developers to breathe new life into ideas that you may have had before and trying to give you an opportunity to take a second crack at it. It’s almost like for the old guard, it’s a second shot, another chance. For the new guard, it’s like, “We’re gonna do what you tried to do and create this new feature off the back of your work.” How does it feel to have to relinquish some of that responsibility to people who are just figuring it out as they go along? It’s like, “I’ll figure this out. Don’t worry about it,” and it’s like your baby that they’re juggling with.
I don’t see it that way, actually, the baby juggling. I think you’re doing entirely new storytelling. It’s a good reminder that every single person has a different experience, even if they’re developers. Doesn’t matter. Even the veterans, they don’t see the game the same way. That’s also key, and when you talk, you see the fundamentals. You see the thing that comes back. You see all that. I mentioned it earlier, but you learn really to focus on those aspects. Yes, the balance is hard because one of the things about the legacy is that when you come after the three games, obviously one thing you’re trying to do is take the best of the three. You go back to exploration under 1; the character relationship, loyalty missions in 2; and push the gameplay of 3. Similarly, you have to balance the three elements in a single game when there’s a trilogy involved, and you know, it takes five years.
Yeah, so it’s long, it’s a balance, it takes five years, but the development process also has to accompany that, so when you switch engines, you need to redo everything. No matter what. You need to redo your art assets, and to redo your schematics, and to redo your scripting, and to redo everything. That also, while doing that process, the game evolved; the game changed. It helps in a way to put your thoughts together.
Stepping back again, you’ve played Mass Effect 1. You loved it. You played Mass Effect 2. You loved it. Now, you’re working on Mass Effect 3. Can you talk a bit about your feelings going into working on Mass Effect 3 as a fan? What were your feelings going into it as someone that’s arriving to the story as its ending?
The team actually helped me because my very first day as a BioWare employee–and I was in charge of the levels for producing content for the missions–I came into a meeting where they were debating about the various endings, so I was spoiled, I was like, “Oh crap. Okay. Now that’s done. I know the end, so [the] game is ruined. That’s fine. I can focus.”
Jokes aside, it’s just weird, because I had all the old BioWare games, not only Mass Effect. I had old BioWare games at home, and when you’re discussing with someone, and he tells you, “[There’s] this production job at BioWare and I think you could be good for it. We should discuss,” and all that. I was a designer at the time and I said, “I don’t know anything about production,” and then you go home, and you talk to your wife, and she’s like, “Did you say ‘no’ to BioWare? The guys that you have all the games of on the shelf?” Then you think about it, you’re like, “Oh.”
The very first question is: Do I actually want to work on that, because I enjoyed it so much as a player. Then you put that in the balance and it actually enters in the balance. You know you’re not going to play those games the same way for the rest of your life, you see what’s under the hood and how it’s made. Even if you leave BioWare, you know now how it works.
Then the other part is also [the] professional part thing. It’s not about your CV, having BioWare on there. It’s just about the values of the company. Do you want to work on quality games? Do you want to make games that are memorable? If you want to do that, you probably should take that offer. And then yes, as I mentioned, you get the stress the first days; [it’s] extremely stressful. You’ve got all that. Now the good thing about BioWare is that there’s still a lot of veterans. There is very small turnaround, so people stay a long time at BioWare. You’re surrounded by people who have so much experience, and years of experience in the same studio that your learning curve is extremely fast. Also, the BioWare mentality is pretty much the mentality of a craftsman. It’s craftsmanship, so they throw you into it … [you] come in the first day, you’ve got a shitload of stuff to do. You’re probably already late, so you enter into that. Again, at the time, I was already making games for years, so I knew some of the things. You switch your mind and say, “Okay, we need to focus on that, and we need to do that,” and then this different approach.
So having finished the trilogy, and now some time later going into Andromeda, what do you think the biggest challenge is going into it? What were your biggest hurdles that you wanted to overcome?
I think the biggest challenge is to be up to the expectation in the sense that everybody expect[s] that you learn from the trilogy, so you have to take the best part of it, and that you provide a game that is as memorable as any of the trilogy. The problem is you come after three games, and everybody will have that level of expectation because those three games are a single experience. This is a very important point. People remember a single experience, not necessarily three different games, so suddenly the level of the experience you need to provide has to be in a way at that level that took three games to make. This is the first thing.
The second thing is, as I mentioned previously, Mass Effect is also about innovating between each number and changing. You don’t sit on your laurels and move on. No, it’s changing. That’s one of the key parts of the franchise, so you have to be not only able to deliver that expectation, but you have to bring that element of change, and then it’s that entire notion of a fresh start. You have to be true to that universe, interesting, and you have to deal with the fact that people have fond memories of a specific story, the Shepard story. Also, you want to bring players that have never played a Shepard story. You want to bring them into the universe that is now already rich. A lot of people are talking about it, and you don’t want them to be intimidated by that universe which was the case, for example, in Mass Effect 3. A lot of people said, “Well, I love the game. I love watching people play the game, but it looks so complicated, and complex, and you know, I don’t have the time.” We also have to be appealing to those people saying, “Okay, it’s a different story, same complex universe, but you’ll be brought up in there smoothly, and you will actually enjoy, and we open the door to that universe.” I think the mix of the two was the most challenging part.
The things that you’re talking about with Andromeda is it’s cherry-picking the best of each game, and it’s bringing in the exploration, the characters, the narrative, and the weight of what you’re trying to do as characters in the game. The expectation from fans is, “You’ve done this before, so when it arrives, it’s going to be perfect. Obviously from your perspective as developers, you’re a new team on a new engine. Do you hope that the fanbase receives Andromeda as, “This is our Mass Effect 1 again,” but we’re trying to lay the foundations again for an entire franchise? It might have some rough edges here and there, but we’re building an ambition again or do you expect fans will be like, “No, it needs to be perfect, perfect, perfect, perfect”?
I think it’s a mix of both, actually. For example narratively, yes, it needs to be like Mass Effect 1. It’s a new start, something exciting, something brand-new. In term of gameplay for example, it needs to be the next generation of game. Regardless [of] how we support exploration or combat, it needs to be tight. It needs to be smooth. It needs to be all that, but at the same time, the universe has been built over the years. The universe is there, and there is absolutely no doubt that people will look, is it consistent? Is it true to the universe, which Mass Effect 1 didn’t have by definition, so I think it’s a mix of both.
You were talking earlier about not thinking about the legacy and the expectations from fans because obviously, if you think about it too much then it cripples you.
You can do that in retrospect, you can think about the stuff that you’ve put out there and not reflect on it too much, but right now you’re putting out trailers and it ignites this overwhelming response, whether it’s on YouTube or Twitter or on a day-to-day basis. How do you create that distance when you have a fanbase that tries to get as close to you and your game as possible?
First, there is a big anticipation part, so Andromeda is probably the game we focus-tested the most. The number of people that saw things, played a thing before we released, and most importantly, across the entire development cycle we started literally years ago, that was probably the most intense one we did. Obviously, at the beginning, you’re only with extremely core fans, a very small group of trusted people because we know also we’re the champions of leaks often, so you do that in very small area. You test ideas as you bounce ideas and all that. Across the development, you spot the people you want to talk to.
Obviously for us, the challenge was to actually reach out to the non-Mass Effect fan early enough to understand what they want; also people who sometimes have no clue what Mass Effect is, actually. That’s good. That’s what we want. That’s also a layer we added, and so there was that mixed spot. Anticipation helps a lot, so we can predict a number of reactions based on the first feedback we have. Then, we’ve always paid attention–so, it’s part of my job, people like Mike Gamble, Mac Walters were especially at the forefront of listening to those guys. Yes, you’re right, there is a lot of messages. A lot.
The fans are very passionate. The community’s very passionate, so there are also people within the community that will tell us, “Oh, you should pay attention to what those guys are saying because I don’t think they’ll love it, and you shouldn’t do that and…” So they help us [and] are in there. Then it’s also tricky for us to find a balance, or “Oh, they’re complaining about that, but we know what they don’t know, right? So what do you want to adjust, change, or refresh?” This requires time. This requires focus. And it requires the ability to separate what you want to keep or keep out. At the same time, there’s nothing worse than nobody car[ing]. Right? We don’t have that problem. That’s great, and this is something you certainly want to see. I think we can honestly say that we’ve also been surprised by how the hype kept up five years later. If you take our latest Mass Effect content really in the game, it’s probably the last multiplayer map four years ago, something like that in Mass Effect 3. Nothing happened. We didn’t release anything since, and it seems that actually the interest kept growing over the years, which is great. Again, it shows also the solidity of the universe, the symbolic universe, and it’s about the love of science fiction and all that. I think it goes beyond just a game.
For newcomers and your long-term fans, what do you want them to take away from Andromeda?
That’s a tough one. There’s a lot of things. For me, and it’s a personal answer, what I’d like them to take away is that the notion of humility. When you’re there, and you’re a stranger in a strange world, and you have to make your place, and you’re not expected–you’re not even wanted–and I think in the context that we live in today, politically and socially and all that, I think it’s something I would… If that message could pass, and people can remember that, I’d love it, that notion of humility. Then the sheer notion of curiosity. If we can light that spark into people that will again to look at the stars and say, “I want to get there.” I think the mix of those two elements, I’d love that takeaway.
You said earlier that you last content drop was a map for Mass Effect 3 multiplayer.
I don’t even know if it’s true. Might be a weapon pack, maybe.
I think you might be right. The fanbase, the intensity and the passion has persisted right up until right now, and to me and to us as fans, that’s because people live their lives by this franchise now. It’s no longer just a game that you enjoy and then forget about. Fans wake up thinking about it and go to sleep thinking about it.
I do that everyday [laughs].
I mean, you have no choice [laughs]. They have a choice. Beyond that, it’s also a franchise that, as you know as someone who started off as a fan, people connect with it on a deep and emotional level. They see themselves in there. They see their struggles in there. They see the solution to those struggles in there. How do you approach creating a game knowing that what you’re putting out there is going to be read on a level much deeper than you may even be considering it? How do you approach creating characters knowing, “I’m not just making a character,” but someone out there might be looking to find some sort of deeper insight in this character?
I’ll do a very simple answer, a single word: “honestly.” You just approach it honestly. It’s just like the legacy. You don’t think about all that consciously, at least at the beginning. Again, we are storytellers, so what you start doing is creating characters with personalities, stories that carry an emotional bond element, whatever it is that you need or you want in the story you’re going to tell. All the characters in storytelling have a role to play. You got the foes. You got the allies. In our games, specifically, sometimes you can switch those. And this is also why you don’t focus on the role, but on the emotional role that they will play among all the characters. You really start there. You focus there.
You got the story arc; you got all that, but even that is less important than the characters that you have, because they are the ones that will allow you to create those stories. Once you have that, usually anything that looks like even a political statement or a message that you’re trying to pass isn’t actually thought consciously before the character. It’s a natural addition based on that personality. The only conscious thing is usually themes that we mentioned. Overall themes [we] mentioned is discovery. I mentioned humility, those kind of values. They’re very high level. You can find that anywhere, but the specifics of the characters and when people write to us saying, “I call my son Garrus because [these are] values that I carry,” and all that. Obviously, you don’t think about that, and another guy will love Wrex. Doesn’t matter. Again, it’s about choices, but you really start at that level of intimacy because epic stories are worth nothing if you don’t tell them at an intimate level.
As I mentioned, you honestly create the characters that you want and and then the audience, the players will do the rest. They will connect the dots they need to connect because you cannot predict what happens in people’s lives. You cannot predict why they won’t connect with that. Even if some characters are more popular than others, the reason why they are varies, and we can’t tell. We get letters everyday of people like, “That guy changed my life,” or “That character,” and the reason I’m never, ever, ever the same because they see something in those characters that you don’t plan for, and this is just great. If you do personalities rich enough, people will see a number of things, just like in real life. Your best friend is someone that maybe another of your friends can’t stand, but you’re still both friends with the other, and you don’t see the same thing in each others. This is the same. Exactly the same.
I asked that question because I was just thinking about like at the time when the original trilogy came out was times when socially we were kind of developing in games. It was fuel for that development. The handling of relationships, same-sex relationships, the treatment of how humanity’s place exists within the world, it helped people understand issues that they may not have considered before and kind of untangled them. Obviously, Andromeda arrives at a time when the world is more complicated than ever, so a lot of people will be looking at the game and thinking of it as something that will help ground them in the world and figure it out, whether that’s political or [otherwise.] So the responsibility of that, is that something that’s discussed within the teams? You said that you treated characters honestly, and it falls into place, but there’s also people out there that will want to see that as responsibility for you guys now. Whether you like it or not, you’ve become a developer thats seen as offering commentaries on the social issues and characters. Is that something that you sit down every now and then and be like, “We have an opportunity to say something here. We should say it”?
I would say yes and no. So remember the context, for example, the same-sex relationship. It wasn’t a political statement in the beginning. It became a political statement because people opposed to it talked about us and made us … Our game was just about choices. That’s one of the choices. That’s it. That was it. Over the years, again, it became a political statement, but we didn’t make it a political statement, but now you’re right. Now with Andromeda, the trilogy’s behind us, and we have that image whether we like it or not that we’re a company that is socially progressive and obviously, that’s what we are. Now, we have that in mind; it’s a conscious thing when we write. We know that.
Now, I wasn’t ever involved in a discussion that says we need to talk about that social problem, so that’s why I’m saying yes and no. It never happened. It was never the beginning of a story to say we need to address that social thing. Now, if we have opportunities to address them, we feel an opportunity to pass a message, we do, but again, at the same time, we’re about choice. Even for same-sex relationships, you can also just ignore them. It’s the same for any political statement. We can always ignore it. In that game, the only thing you cannot ignore is the context. You’re a bunch of guys that are seeking a villain in the galaxy, in a place that is not yours, and there are already people there, and you have to deal with that. Obviously this is no choice, but how you deal with that is your choice, and it’s the same for all the rest. It’s a game about choice.
Are we in the team, socially progressive [people]? Yes, absolutely. Do we know that we might have an impact? Yes, absolutely. But we don’t sit down saying, “Yeah, we need to address that. Let’s write something about it.”
How do you feel about Andromeda and the state of Mass Effect now? What are your hopes and ambitions for the franchise going forward? You had a part to play on a small fraction of the original trilogy, but now you’re here at the forefront of a brand-new era of Mass Effect. Where do you hope to see it go? Where do you hope it is maybe five or 10 years from now?
Obviously as I mentioned, the universe is extremely, extremely rich, deep. There’s a lot of stories to tell, so what I hope is that we actually keep telling stories, and that we also actually keep setting a true science-fiction franchise in a sense that we’re grounded with the world around us, and we keep telling stories where people can relate and that are accurate with people’s lives, with the context we live in. That’s beyond the franchise. It’s just what science fiction is, but Mass Effect is our tool, and I think we should keep going there. I’d love also to remain over the years to come as a franchise and also keep evolving after each new installment, and we keep moving forward.
What’s your fondest memory of the Mass Effect franchise? Is there a moment that sticks out to you?
That’s a tough one. I think it probably goes back to Mass Effect 1, and that moment when you can actually explore the uncharted world, because they’re kind of gated at the beginning. Suddenly you land with your clumsy Mako, and you go around, but it doesn’t matter. The execution doesn’t matter because it awakes something in you about the sheer curiosity and discovery. It awakes that in a place on this uncharted world, but you realize after, when you keep playing the trilogy, that feeling of curiosity to discover worlds actually applies to people, to the other characters. This is what Mass Effect 2 explores. So for me, the definition of Mass Effect at the personal level starts there, that little childhood sparkle that someone lights in you and say, “Oh, I just want to explore that,” and then you want to explore relationships and then you want to explore something else, but it’s that notion.
That’s something that you’ve aimed to capture again in Andromeda?
Oh absolutely, yeah. Yeah. That’s at the center of this game.