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July 3rd, 2015 - This Week on MSPixel!

How nice of Blasto to, uh, pull us up.
June 26th, 2015 - This Week on MSPixel!

Today we have to watch Shepard and Garrus role play, which isn't nasty at all. Yes it is.

Manager Aaryn Flynn and Creative Director Mac Walters dish (a bit) on new adventure

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Electronic Arts’ E3 press conference kicked off with something that fans were hoping to see: a teaser-trailer for the new Mass Effect title, Mass Effect: Andromeda, set to the wavering baritone of Johnny Cash’s "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky." At about the same time as the EA event, BioWare posted a blog entry with a few new details on the game: you can play a male or female character, it’s set in a galaxy far, far away—literally, hence "Andromeda"—and the expected release date is near the end of 2016.

But we’re hungry for more details on the new game, which BioWare has teased for more than a year now. We got a chance to sit down with BioWare Montreal studio manager Aaryn Flynn and Creative Director Mac Walters over some hotel bar snacks and pump them—politely but insistently—for anything they’d be willing to tell us. We didn’t glean any Reaper-sized scoops, but we did get some additional confirmations and details about how the next game in the Mass Effect series will look and play.

Two guys from Andromeda

The new game is set in a new galaxy, with a new set of characters. This much we mostly knew, and the first and foremost deviation from the Mass Effect formula is that this new adventure definitely doesn’t involve Commander Shepard and his (or her) crew. The obvious fear is that the Mass Effect "magic" won’t be there if Commander Shepard isn’t the game’s nucleus—after all, throughout the first three games, Shepard is not only the player’s avatar, but the pivot around which the entire galaxy turns.

But BioWare games have always been like video game takes on The Seven Samurai—assembling an interesting bunch of people to go do a difficult or impossible task and watching the interpersonal developments between those people. (The most interesting bits of Mass Effect 3, for example, weren’t the explosive set pieces or big firefights, but the quiet moments with the crew in between missions.) So will the new game attempt to stick with the BioWare formula of giving you an interesting bunch of comrades to bond with?

"One hundred percent," said Mac Walters. "I think it’s fair to say that’s a hallmark of BioWare, and it’s a hallmark certainly of the Mass Effect franchise and something we’d never stray away from. I think one of the most interesting things for us when we started looking at what we were going to do with Andromeda, was knowing this was going to be a whole new set of characters and a new adventure, and all the great stories we were going to be able to tell because of that and what their journey is going to be like."

"One thing I’d like to get across," said Flynn, "is just all of the excitement the studio has—both Edmonton and Montreal—to finally begin to talk about Mass Effect. Because, again, it’s been in development for a few years now."

Face off

The switch to the Frostbite engine has been seen by the team as a positive change, with both Flynn and Walters praising the new engine and the flexibility granted by using an internal engine rather than a licensed one. The ability to piggyback on improvements to Frostbite that are being made by all of EA’s other Frostbite-using studios gives a lot of advantages.

Walters cited the face-scanning tech demonstrated on stage today in EA’s latest NBA franchise title as a great Frostbite feature that they might potentially have access to if they needed it—though both he and Flynn quickly waved off my question about whether or not players would be able to scan in their faces as part of the Mass Effect: Andromeda character creation process.

"We can’t talk about that yet or ruin any of that yet!" laughed Flynn. "But what’s becoming a model of development for these games—to speak more generally—is that a really clever innovation like that gets created and gets polished and actually gets working, and then gets standardized to work with the engine and the technology, so it becomes much easier to then adopt those things and say, ‘I wonder if we could use that?’"

Driving Miss Shepard

Shifting gears a bit to talk about vehicles, we asked about the presence of the revised, rebuilt Mako in the promotional material so far. People tend to have very strong feelings about BioWare games and vehicles, and we were curious how the new game would handle an old and contentious topic.

"Oh, we definitely learned," from the first iteration of the Mako in the original Mass Effect, said Flynn. "The driving mechanics on the Mako in the first game I think could be greatly improved, and we’ve always wanted to get back and improve that. The Hammerhead was one attempt to do that." Flynn pointed out that BioWare is part of a global network of developers now, and that expertise gained in other EA games might trickle into Mass Effect. "If you saw the Need for Speed stuff today," he said, referring to EA’s gameplay demo of the new Need for Speed reboot, "they’ve done fantastic, amazing driving mechanics, and that’s fun to play. As much as we can, we will work with those guys, we will learn from them to get those kinds of mechanics and that kind of polish into the game."

Stick ’em with the pointy end

If vehicles are one side of the contention coin, combat is the other. Mass Effect’s combat and skills management have evolved significantly from the first game, starting out in a stats-based place like a traditional western RPG and ending up with a much more focused core shooter experience. Where, on this spectrum, will the new game fall?

"What I can say," said Flynn, "is that I really like where the combat is going when I play it and that it’s an absolute focus… I think it would be fair to say that Mass Effect 3 represents a starting point from where we want to go with this combat experience."

"But that said," he continued, "I think we’ve learned a few lessons around ensuring that combat experience has really nice role-playing elements to it, things you can do that offer progression and offer choice in how you play the experience."

What beautiful music they make

BioWare is known for keeping a good stable of voice actors they like to work with on various projects, so we next asked if it was possible we might hear some old familiars among the new Mass Effect cast.

"I don’t think you’ve cast any single character—" started Flynn, and Walters interrupted him to confirm.

"No casting yet," he said. "We often, when we develop character in any of our games, will use existing actors in movies to kind of say, ‘This is how this person talks,’ and we’ve certainly had those discussions, we know those characters and some actors we’d love to have—but we haven’t gotten into the casting yet. So, news to come—stay tuned!"

"Same thing for any actual characters coming back from old games?" I asked.

"Yeah, nothing announced," said Flynn. "Again, the real idea here is that because it’s a…a real big new adventure and it’s very far away."

On the subject of Mass Effect and the signature sounds of the series, Walters said that they were very interested in maintaining continuity with the earlier games. "It’s definitely too soon to start talking about who, specifically," said Walters in reference to specific composers on the new game. "But I think that ‘sonic identity’ that we’ve had is something we want to maintain."

Reaper sleeper?

The idea of having the slate wiped clean, so to speak, is very attractive to both Flynn and Walters; Flynn mentioned that it’s long been a regret of Walters that they spread the Mass Effect story far out over the entire Milky Way galaxy, with the game’s galactic map showing a civilization that appears to stretch from arm to arm without too many unexplored nooks and crannies.

"With Andromeda," said Walters, "our goal is to start that at a much smaller scale—though the scales are still massive—and give you a sense that there is much more to explore, rather than saying ‘here’s the whole galaxy.’"

We asked whether there were the series’ signature mass relays in the new galaxy—after all, how else would players cross the millions of light years between the Milky Way and Andromeda? "I don’t think we can get into that," said Flynn, "but you saw in the trailer today that the Omni-blade is there—you saw a couple of nice evolutions of that—and we get to push things and evolve things, but also keep them consistent so that if you’re a fan, you’re going to see them and hopefully love them again."

"Even when the ‘N7’ comes on in the trailer," he continued, "it’s just a big reminder that ‘N7’ and everything that stands for is consistent across the games, and still means things—means camaraderie and support from the other characters. It means being part of a team. Hopefully, it’s coming to mean really great gameplay in the combat experience and everywhere."

Keep digging

Shortly before Dragon Age: Inquisition launched, players were given the opportunity to log into the Dragon Age Keep, an online service where they could import and manage their progression from past Dragon Age games. It was a neat way to allow players new to the series—or players like me who no longer had their older saved games—to be able to start out the new game with choices other than the defaults. Fans have been wondering for some time whether the new Mass Effect game would use a similar type of meta-game (the Citadel Archives, maybe?) to track the player’s past choices.

"We can’t comment on that yet," said Flynn, "But the Keep was really successful and people really liked it. It’s cool that we’re a part of games that people want to bring experiences they had in previous games... and we want to honor that as much as we can."

What about our past choices, then? This has always been one of the series’ biggest selling points (regardless of how everything played out in Mass Effect 3)—so will any of the player’s past choices matter in Mass Effect: Andromeda?

"Yeah… we can’t get into that yet," said Flynn. "But more on that will be revealed in the coming months."

I commented how much I enjoyed the idea of progress mattering—and how characters would occasionally remark on past events and make me as the main character feel like I’d accomplished something. Flynn and Walters both agreed that was a core component of the Mass Effect experience. "It’s really tough to reward players for level investment, because you have to think all the time—it’s a devilishly complex development challenge, but we keep trying to do it and we keep loving it and we’ll do as much as we can, even as we create a new adventure and give people a chance to go in many ways in a very different direction with the story itself."

The fans

As we wrapped, Walters and Flynn both expressed awe and no small amount of reverence at the Mass Effect fans’ dedication to the games, be they with musical compositions or the fan art communities on sites like Deviantart (so, yes, it’s likely that the BioWare team has seen and in fact really likes your Garrus drawings!).

"That’s a great example," Flynn said when I asked about Deviantart in particular. "You’re like, how did somebody understand what we were trying to go for with this relationship or with these characters and then just do their own cool take on it? That’s very humbling to see people do that."

"We’re very lucky that there’s something about Mass Effect which does pull people in a unique way," said Flynn. "It’s a bunch of things that just come together really well, and we have a big responsibility to keep that going for fans."
June 17th, 2015 - Insanity Round!
Geth Infiltrator
Wasea Insanity Round Small
In case you're new to the comm, this is just a post of the week where you're given ten prompts and pick one to write a drabble on and post it in the comments. Or have an idea that isn't from a prompt? Post it anyway! (Artwork is welcome too!)

If you'd like to track the activity on today's post, just click on the "track this" link at the bottom.

So read the prompts, write a story, submit a prompt! But most of all, have fun!

GuidelinesCollapse )

  1. Voice of the people

  2. Temptation may have beckoned but I always have resisted

  3. Broken promises

  4. Downward spiral

  5. What should we do with the funny little things?

  6. Just add that to my list of problems

  7. Death magnet

  8. I don’t want it to be real

  9. Drawing the short straw

  10. At least Humans are consistently stupid

Garrus B&W
Brief video I put together showing the same scene running on both 360 and X1, highlighting the (minor) differences when running the game on the newer console

A few points:

  • Some frequent stuttering points in the 360 version run perfectly smooth on X1, but not all

  • Texture pop-in is vastly improved. While not perfect, there are many instances where it no longer happens at all

  • Load times are shorter. In this video it was 4 seconds, but when replaying the same scene later, it was as low as 2

  • Character lighting appears to be darker, except on their skin

  • ME1's somewhat clunky controls are less of an issue with the X1's controller

  • Some cutscenes appear to end slightly quicker, as a result of no momentary slowdowns when changing camera angles/animations/etc.

It's hardly anything groundbreaking, but on paper it does run slightly better than on the 360.
June 15th, 2015 - E3 2015 Discussion Post
ME - N7


Comment with any and all comments, discussion items, or speculation related to any new Mass Effect game reveal made by Bioware this week during E3.

The EA press conference is scheduled for today, Monday, June 15, 2015 at 1pm PDT (4pm EDT / 8pm UTC), and there's been scuttlebutt that they'll be doing a major reveal about the next game at it. Live stream will be available here.

NOTE: There WILL be spoilers. LJ-SPOILER tags will NOT be required or enforced, so read at your own risk.

If you're avoiding all spoilers, you should NOT read the comments or under the cut.

Various links of interest from the comment thread, last updated 8:09pm UTCCollapse )
June 5th, 2015 - This Week on MSPixel!

This week, Shepard discovers Traynor, and I discover the true meaning of Mass Effect.

Turns out, Shepard and her clone are really going places.
May 29th, 2015 - This Week on MSPixel!

You know what you can't clone? Bad art.
May 24th, 2015 - The One Rule on Omega
Geth Infiltrator

Now this is awesome.
May 15th, 2015 - This Week on MSPixel!

Deep in the Citadel archives, very serious police work is happening.

I also made a Mass Effect news post if you're interested.
May 1st, 2015 - This Week on MSPixel!

Time to break into the bad guy lair and discover who the big shadowy mystery figure is!
ME - N7
Most of us probably already have it, but...make your friends buy it! I did.

Mass Effect Trilogy - PC Download | Instant Access (whatever that means)
... is the word - among other things - at this VERY useful tumblr post: Master Post for Mass Effect 4 news

POTENTIAL SPOILER WARNING: There is speculation that some spoilers for story were leaked the link above. She gives ample warning, however, before going into what said spoilers are. However, for the timid, I will repost the gist of the non-spoiler stuff below. Note that in her actual post, she's linked to a lot of stuff for sources, but it would take forever to recreate them, so if you really want to read sources, click on the main post above.

[Non spoilery ME4 news within]Here’s the masterpost of all Mass Effect 4 news and rumours we have so far! This post will be updated as we get more news and stuff. Remember to take every information that’s not been confirmed by Bioware with a grain of salt. Enjoy!

- Bioware started working on the next Mass Effect late 2012.
- October 2013, Bioware said “Mass Effect 4 may not relate to Shepard storyline or characters in any way.”
- December 2013, Aaryn Flynn said ME4 is “ambitious. beautiful. fresh but recognizable. and fun!"
- Bioware had a secret fan panel at PAX Prime. Here’s the post about it. Now here’s the interesting about this, a lot of the information given here actually matches with a lot of stuff Bioware revealed about ME4 recently. Definitely worth checking out.
Rumours from that post: Fans were asked what N7 means to them. Two new races shown, one very skinny, the other ‘golem-like’. Asari, salarian, krogan and human shown in Frostbite Engine. Like humans having different facial structure from each other, they want to do that with other races as well. Multiple land vehicles. Customisation. The focus is characters, story and exploration.
- Studio manager Yanick Roy said they were ”somewhere in the midde? :-)“ of development in April 2014.
- June 2014, at E3, Bioware teases Mass Effect 4 with a teaser trailer. Everyone’s already crying upon hearing the first notes of the Galaxy Map music anyway. Bioware talks about the important role of discovery in the game, the armour shown in the teaser has the N7 logo on it, also there is a krogan. And rocks.
- July 2014, ”stop calling the next Mass Effect 'Mass Effect 4’“. No, I say, calling this post Mass Effect 4 News Masterpost.
- August 2014, Casey Hudson left Bioware. Here’s a link of Bioware saying Casey Hudson left Bioware.
- Bioware had a panel at Comic Con 2014 titled 'Charting a Course: Developing the Next Mass Effect. Here’s the video of the panel.
Important stuff from there if you don’t wanna watch the whole thing:
- At the panel, Bioware showed the first picture of the ME4 protagonist, who is indeed human. (Probably no other playable races?) They also said that the hero has "something to do with N7”. And as they were talking about the design of the armour, they hinted at the armour being specifically designed for 'exploration’, including a 'glass helmet’ to look around easily.
- Senior artist Noel Lukasewich also mentioned that there will be armour customisation, including snap-on equipment and changing the colour of the lights… etc etc.
- Mako is back. Yay. It’s a fast, agile Mako this time. Different than what we’ve seen before. There is also no canon on it. It’s meant to be a quick 'get to point A to point B’ sort of vehicle. They showed some gameplay footage with it too. And Mako customisation is something that might be happening too.
- “We are building a game about exploring places.”
- “It’s not called Mass Effect 4, damn it!” Noel Lukasewich says and proceeds to not telling us what it is actually called.
- There will be “aliens and whatnot” in our team. Also new species as well. And there will be romance~*:・゚✧
- They are working on some cool stuff for the casual outfit of the character, saying that it will be better than ME3 ones.
- Will characters from previous games make a cameo in ME4? “The theme is we wanna create new experiences for the player but we still want to be able to bring in elements of what you know and love about the previous trilogy. And that might include certain characters, it might not. Certain scenarios… Things like that.”, they said. So, we don’t know yet.
- Here are the dev team leads for Mass Effect 4. Lead writer is Chris Schlerf, who was also the lead writer of Halo 4.
- November 2014, N7 Day, Bioware makes a livestream on twitch with ME4 devs. And release new concept art for ME4. They confirm two new alien races, talk about how important exploration is and that they will be providing the best tools to the player to make that experience enjoyable.
- Bioware says that the main protagonist is someone 'becoming a hero’ and they are 'skilled and capable’ but they don’t have that 'legendary’ status Shepard has. In that same dev team lead post Mac Walters says “With Shepard, you arrived on the scene as a hero, and you were called forward from there. For the next Mass Effect, however, we’ve been looking at more of a hero’s journey: how you become a legend and what it takes to get there.”
- 'Industry insider’ Shinobi602 says that Mass Effect 4 will be at E3 2015, and release date will be 2016. Bioware didn’t say anything about a release date so far, but many sources are hinting at a reveal at E3 2015.
- Aaryn Flynn confirms on NeoGAF that Mass Effect 4 will be available to next gen consoles only, unlike DAI. So, PC, Xbox One and PS4 only, folks. Fun fact: There were rumours of ME4 being Xbox One exclusive. It’s a complete lie.
- From the same post, he mentioned that Mass Effect won’t be 'DA:I in space’ or use the same template.
- Mass Effect 4 is going to be massive in size, even bigger than DA:I. The game’s actual title is said to be finalized as well. Before the release of DA:I, there were 50 devs working on ME4. That number now quadrupled with the release of DA:I, many devs from the DA:I team joining ME4’s development.
- ME4 is probably going to have multiplayer. Or some sort of online thing like that. Considering the success of ME3 multiplayer and the fact that DAI also has one, it’s very likely.
- Chris Wynn pretty much confirms ME4 multiplayer on twitter. Also claims that single player will be MASSIVE and multiplayer won’t take away from that experience.
- Mass Effect 4 to feature emotionally believeable characters and photorealistic graphics. In their job listing Bioware said they were looking for a Senior Cinematic Animator who can create emotionally gripping cinematics and make either ’photorealistic’ or ’stylized’ looking characters interact in a realistic and believable fashion.
- Software Engineer Kevin Plitzko wrote on his (now private) LinkedIn profile that he is working on Mass Effect 4, and that the game will be released on October 2016. He also claims that a cinematic teaser will be shown at E3 2015.
- Chris Wynn teases Mass Effect 4 for E3, also Bioware dev Jonathan Warner pretty much says ME4 has a great story.
- Senior Producer at Bioware, Jonathan Warner says we don’t need to worry about previous saves from the trilogy itself and that the next ME will be a great place to jump into the series. Also Mike Gamble might share some new info soon.
- First behind the scenes look of a mo cap set of the next Mass Effect! Cinematic director Ken Thain posted a picture from the motion capture session going on in Vancouver. Exciting stuff.
- According to Chris Wynn, the amount of detail in the characters is insane.

E3 will be June 16—June 18. My guess is we'll get the first trailer, the title (FINALLY), and not much else beyond that. It'll probably be like the DAI Morrigan trailer that debuted at E3 two years ago, giving us a glimpse of plot, setting, and characters but few details.
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