We asked Bioware about Mass Effect Andromeda’s biggest challenge: going open world but remaining true to its roots

By Alex Donaldson, Tuesday, 13 September 2016 12:44 GMT

Bioware General Manager Aaryn Flynn talks a little about the challenge of Mass Effect’s latest.

mass effect andromeda 4k screens

Mass Effect Andromeda has a lot to prove. While Bioware works under one general banner, it’s fairly well known that the studio is split into a few different slices in different locations. The driving force behind Mass Effect Andromeda’s development isn’t new to the series since they worked on the multiplayer of Mass Effect 3, but this is their first time to put a stamp on the series all their own.

At the same time the industry has changed tremendously since the time when the foundations of Mass Effect as a series were put into place in 2007. By the time Mass Effect Andromeda launches the series will be nearly ten years old, and Bioware seems to be keen to upgrade the formula at least a little to bring it in line with its peers and rivals.

The footage shown at last week’s PlayStation meeting seems to back that up. Sure enough, this was heavily edited footage designed to showcase the game’s PS4 Pro visuals in particular, stopping short of showing combat or Bioware’s signature dialogue. That said, this footage also seemed to showcase an openness thanks to a jetpack and the like that previous Mass Effect games just didn’t have. In some ways this is exciting, but in others it’s concerning, something Brenna wrote about here on the site.

We had a chance to chat to Bioware general manager Aaryn Flynn about this build, PS4 Pro, the changes coming to Mass Effect and why he and the studio view Andromeda as more of a spiritual successor to the first game than either of its sequels.

mass effect andromeda 4k screens

VG247: Having you guys and this footage here today was a pleasant surprise! How long has this been on the cards? When did Sony approach you about the PS4 Pro, and being a part of this?

Aaryn Flynn: Let’s see… it was summertime, just after E3. We began conversations with Sony, and at that point we had the hardware already. Sony said to us, look we’re planning to reveal this, how’s Mass Effect looking, it looked great at E3… They were kind enough to open that door for us.

We met with them and talked with them and it was all really good. They gave us lots of good suggestions and advice on how to really maximise the potential on the new hardware, and so here we are.

VG247: You guys are of course developing for PC as well. Does having that high bar for top-end PCs make developing for two different PS4 units a little bit easier?

Oh yeah, yeah – absolutely. A lot of techniques and things that Mark Cerny mentioned on stage there are techniques that we do employ on high-end PCs as well. The fact that we offer a lot of the art to support those fidelities already is also good.

“A lot of techniques and things that Mark Cerny mentioned on stage there are techniques that we do employ on high-end PCs as well. The fact that we offer a lot of the art to support those fidelities already is also good.”

Really, it’s just about… Again, y’know, hats off to Sony for finding such a clever way to pack so much power into this console while at the same time keeping it as one giant PlayStation 4 community for players where, y’know, if you don’t upgrade – hey, you’re still playing great games and you’re still going to play with your friends. It’s not a console transition like it traditionally is, and I think that’s just revolutionary.

You showed a very tight little slice of the game today. No combat, no dialogue choices… and of course, you were pretty light at E3. When can we expect more?

Well, we have N7 day coming up – November 7th. That’s been a real tradition for us now for about 5 years where we use that as a chance to connect with fans and share with them some details on things… this year, I really would come back on N7 day…

Okay, I know we have to tread lightly, but let’s talk about the game a little bit. Based on what you showed today it seems like it’ll be much more open? The jetpack already seems to open up quite a lot of possibilities in terms of movement…

Yeah, oh yeah, I love the jetpack… and once you start really playing with it, you start to wonder to yourself… wow, where was this all my life in Mass Effect?

But, yeah, y’know, it’s funny. To bring Mass Effect to more of an open world play style where players are not just moving down a very linear narrative, albeit a very highly polished linear narrative… But also giving players the chance to move in the direction they want to go much more openly, explore where they want to go too, and then the narrative keeps up… that’s been a real big learning point for us.

“Andromeda is our chance to do a lot of things that were ideas that we couldn’t really do on Mass Effect 1, but now we have a chance to do them because our own experience is greater, the hardware is greater, so many other things have been pinned down for us.”

Working through that and learning around that… It’s been a lot of our studio’s work these past five years through Dragon Age Inquisition and now through this – to really learn how to do that better and better. We’ve got lots more learning to do, but I’m really very happy with how the team is doing this with Mass Effect Andromeda.

How does the more open play style fit in with the choice-driven nature of Mass Effect? It seems like meshing those two things together properly would make things quite a bit more difficult.

Yeah, it does, oh yeah. It’s one of those things where we didn’t estimate properly I think… [laughs] It’s a lot of work.

I think one of the great things for us is that we’re learning how to still provide a really special narrative experience – one that is beautiful, and polished, and full of choice and consequence all at the same time as having this experience that is still more self-directed and lets you feel like you’re really in the environment and in the space and truly in control of things.

Where do you think Andromeda stands in terms of RPG mechanics? Each of the Mass Effect games has a different balance between the action game and the RPG…

Yeah, they do, definitely. So… we talk about Andromeda as the spiritual successor to Mass Effect 1. To us this means that we think about y’know… really, Andromeda is our chance to do a lot of things that were ideas that we couldn’t really do on Mass Effect 1, but now we have a chance to do them because our own experience is greater, the hardware is greater, so many other things have been pinned down for us.

That really allows us to do that, to return to some of those ideas from the first game and do right by them, and so that’s the way we think about it. Hopefully you feel the same way about the game when you play it.

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