10 Things The Next Mass Effect Game Can Do To Be Better Than The Original Trilogy

That is a long title…

The next Mass Effect game is one of the next generation projects that I am most intrigued to hear more about, even more so considering the backlash after 3 and the massive strides in quality Dragon Age Inquisition seems to have made from DA2. However as much of a fan as I was of the original 3 games, there were grievances I had with it that I really hope will be ironed out in the new Mass Effect games. So here are the ten things that Mass Effect 4 needs to do to improve upon the original trilogy. I will be interested to see peoples thoughts especially on point eight.

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1) Dialogues

If someone were to ask me what game mechanic I am most drawn to in a new game, I would respond by saying a good dialogue system. For me BioWare and maybe TellTale are the stand outs in this regard. Mass Effect 1 & 2, Dragon Age Origins and 2 really had me immersed in this mechanic for interacting in the world BioWare had created and in those examples I felt like they were executed to a very high quality. However Mass Effect 3 tore a large chunk of this mechanic, restricting who you could talk to and when. Especially on the Normandy where I am meant to be the boss, nobody would allow me to talk to them beyond very scripted dialogue sections, where as in ME1 and ME2 I felt important as everybody responded when I wanted to speak to them, unlike in 3 where I was largely ignored.

It removed the freedom, and that broke immersion for me. I sincerely hope this was a design choice made from a lack of time to flesh out the mechanic as opposed to BioWare actually thinking this was better. BioWare needs to revert to the original freedom for me, especially given the new game will hopefully bring about a new crew and set of characters, and restricting when we can learn things about them will be nothing but detrimental to the game.

2) Morally Ambiguous Choices

I will always remember the first Mass Effect trailer I saw, one where Shepard had to make a dark choice for the greater good. “Many decisions lie ahead, none of them easy.” Yet that was the problem with the original trilogy, with the exception of one or two choices, they were all easy. They were clearly good or bad, but the trailer shows how these decisions should be, how they should tear your soul in two about what needs to be done. Dragon Age suffers from the same problem but I feel Mass Effect has always been the one to have the issues shown up more mainly because of having a voiced protagonist with real emotions (unlike Dragon Age Origins) and also because it’s use of it’s Paragon/Renegade meter where Dragon Age utilised a companion affinity meter instead.

Watch this trailer and tell me that you don’t want more decisions that really make you think about difference between what it morally right and what is needed.

3) New Worlds and Races

We have spent 3 games and 7 years with the Mass Effect series at the time of writing. In that time we have poured over everything the universe has to offer in terms of learning about the races, worlds and history. Now of course you cannot change history, but in order to freshen up the series and keep it feeling new and separate from the original trilogy, I would want to see a fair few new races to learn about, and lots of new worlds and stories to discover. If in the next Mass Effect we never returned to one place from the original trilogy, I would not complain.

4) A More Personal Story

In the AAA market today, I feel overwhelmed with save the world/universe stories.  If you keep raising the stakes eventually it loses it’s impact and for me that is proving very true. However a few stand out games from last generation broke that mould a little more for me, where I felt that it was me the character the story was about and not another ‘save the world’ mission. One being The Last of Us, and wait right there I know what you’re going to say; “but that was about saving humanity” yes on a fundamental level it was, but the way it was painted it never felt like that. It was Joel and Ellie’s story, and until the very end it never felt anything more than one of many stories happening in the world.  The other game that springs to mind is Spec Ops: The Line which takes a brilliant look at to the real horrors of war and the effect that has on those involved as opposed to a power fantasy that we see in most shooters. Because of the personal nature of these two games both made me as a player feel more vulnerable to being emotionally hurt, and that’s a powerful thing in video games because it means the player is really connecting to the character, which makes the events of the game that much more meaningful. Mass Effect’s best moments came from similar circumstances, with Mordin for example and other side characters, but in the next game I want to see what BioWare can do with this as the cornerstone for the games story as opposed to a few side missions.

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5) Better Side Quests

On the whole this is maybe one of the smallest issues for me on this list, however Mass Effect 3’s over use of fetch quests was worrying, it was either lazy or it was down to a lack of time, but either way Mass Effect 3’s scanning planets for items to deliver to people you could not interact with was beyond disappointing. It became a chore to do these, and given BioWare’s proficiency with narrative and writing, it was almost insulting to play as a fan of theirs. Better and more story driven side quests are what we want BioWare, not artificial lengthening of game time.

6) Controller Support on PC

Okay so this one is a little specific and will mean nothing to console players. But as someone in the transition from console to PC gaming, attempting to play Mass Effect with a mouse and keyboard feels near impossible. Then to find there is no controller support either just feels like BioWare does not give a damn about some players. Sure most people will prefer the emphasis of mouse and keyboard, but isolating those who do not is not right.

7) Variety of Playable Races

I thoroughly enjoyed Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer component, despite my initial concerns. However this aspect to the game also showed something else besides multiplayer not being totally unsuited to BioWare. It showed just how many people wanted to play as other races, and it has only made us more keen to be able to play as other races in the main game too, just as Dragon Age Origins allows us. Although I still want there to be the option of a Human playable race too. Options are good.

8) Paragon/Renegade Bars

Okay, this one will probably be a little controversial. But I hate the paragon and renegade bars, I love the cool interactions mid conversation, but the bars themselves I find break my immersion in the character, and make my decisions for me. It’s too predictable, and there is no benefit to being neither good nor evil. It made choices too easy, and felt like it was a way of distracting the player from showing their choice of character personality actually had no impact on the people around you, they did not react differently to you. Because you were cut off from certain choices by these meters, it felt like completely unrelated choices were affecting the game as opposed to choices that should influence the moment. It felt like I was constantly thinking, okay I need to make paragon choices just in case I need to make a paragon locked dialogue choice in the future. Maybe it is just me but I don’t think that’s how the game should be played. Comparing that to Dragon Age which has a similar system but it represents your companions affinity to you, and affected their dialogues and actions towards you, this really made the choices feel meaningful to someone other than my character and like I was really affecting the people around me. I would love to see Mass Effect adopt this approach too, however I don’t think it is particularly likely.

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9) Vehicle Sections

I think the vehicle sections are cool in principle, as is the scanning of planets for resources, but I feel like both could be executed better. I love Mass Effect 1 but I rarely do all the side missions and explore all the planets, why? Becuase it is near enough traumatic to try control the vehicle. It does not feel fun and ultimately makes me not explore the universe I want to explore and learn more about. I think in a new setting vehicles and planet scanning could be more prominent especially if the player character is not a marine this time.

10) Sequel

One of the questions asked most frequently by Mass Effect fans is whether the new game will be a prequel or sequel to the original trilogy, and whilst I am certain BioWare could pull of either. I find myself more drawn to a sequel, we know how the galaxy was before the reaper invasion. We know how it worked and where the power lay. To go back far enough for that to be different we no longer have humanity as a playable race, which for me always is a good staple in a game with race choices, as the bog standard for new players to learn and explore the universe with a race they don’t need know about before playing as it. So that means the future is the most viable option in my opinion. Especially in order to see how the galaxy moves forward after the reaper invasion and how each race’s position in the galaxy may have changed, the Salarians for example who were very cautious about helping the rest of the galaxy, and how the Krogan may be viewed after their sacrifices made to save other races’ homes. That just leaves the problems with of the endings and whether one will be made cannon.

But there we have it, those are the 10 things that I feel will make the next Mass Effect better than any of the previous games.

So what do you think the next Mass Effect should have? Do you agree/disagree with my choices? Let me know in the comments 🙂

Feedback to help improve the article would be appreciated too!

 

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Oulu Game Lab Week 8

Wow 8 weeks already, time flies when you are having fun as they say. This week has been more focussed in work dedicated to our game, as opposed to trying to learn new techniques, and I must say there it is much more difficult and time consuming when working from your head, so I guess the first thing to take from this week in reflection, is that my work process is not quite right yet. I feel I need to start putting more time into the preparation phase of my work, and as anyone who knows me can tell you; I am hardly the most patient person in the world so that will inevitably be a challenge for me to slow down and stop trying to jump into things at the deep end.

Last weekend was a long one due to the Easter holiday and it was nice to have a few days off, although days off would not really be the right word. I still worked just as much just in PJs, in my room, and after waking up a little later. One of the tutorials I worked on over that weekend was a text animation where the text would dissolve. This was a fun little tutorial from tutor4u again and I really recommend checking it out.

On Tuesday it was back to the office and I began working on some models to help decorate the demo level we were building. The model was certainly interesting to make given the vast amount of things you could do with it aesthetically however this also made it complex for me to make having never made this model before. I spent most of the day trying to get my process right for the model, and by Wednesday I had a fairly acceptable model ready. I tried to make some alternative models as well, however I decided after a few hours to go back to trying some foliage. Thursday and Friday left me with some decent enough small foliage plants, and the framework for some larger ones. There is still some more 3D models I need to make for the foliage and more 3D models in general. It is however becoming clear that I need to soon turn my attention to making some textures as the 3D models look very dull without them and until both are combined we will not know whether the models are okay for the game or not.

Saturday I attempted to do a flame thrower animation, however I kept having the same issue come up regarding the depth of the smoke animation. The original smoke animation kept fading out the flames and the tutorial I was following had no answers regarding the issue, maybe because the tutorial was for Blender v2.5 and I am using v2.7. I attempted installing the older version but the camera is very awkward to work with, how people did not get motion sickness with it I have know idea. So today I am going to look at following some more tutorials, hopefully more model based than animation based. Although animation is super fun, I feel the 3D model side will help me more in my day to day work.

In other news, my new laptop finally looks like it will be getting here soon. There was a problem with the processor I ordered not being in stock so the company gave my a better processor and gave me some money back too for it being delayed which is good news. My new laptop will be much more powerful than the temporary one I am using at the moment which should hopefully improve my work output a fair bit when waiting for animations to bake, which at this point regularly takes upwards of 3 hours for a 10 second animation.

So that is about it for this weeks update, I am sorry there could not be as many visual elements to this weeks post as prior posts, but I don’t want to give away too many details about our project until the time is right so we can push the promotion as a united team as opposed to giving stuff out regarding the game here and there and diluting the impact.

I also realise that lately I have been talking less about the game side of things. That is mainly due to my sole focus as of the moment being to develop my 3D modelling and animation skills, but I shall try to speak more on my opinions regarding games and gaming topics sooner rather than later!

Thanks again for reading, and feel free to post your opinions and feedback… it is the internet after all.

Oulu Game Lab Week 7: More Blender

Welcome back for my seventh week update at Oulu Game Lab. This week I have mainly been working on a combination of honing my abilities in using blender whilst also working on some environmental 3D objects for our game. The week started off with our weekly Monday team meeting, this week regarding our more specific roles in the team and where we should be focussing. We also discussed our plan for releasing information on our project, which is why I have been rather quiet in telling you about it so far.

The rest of Monday I spent watching tutorials on YouTube to make environment models in Blender. I find the best way to learn things from the tutorials is first to watch the tutorial without working on blender and then follow the tutorial afterwards. Then if I have problems use the tutorial to help with each step. I will hopefully find the time to re-do some of the tutorials to see how much of the information has stuck.

Tuesday I spent attempting to model some low polygon trees and other foliage. This was mainly for the practice, so that I could make models that would suit our game later, as our game is not utilising a low polygon artistic style. Tuesday afternoon was interesting as we had an interview with Jussi and KP regarding what we wanted to get out of being at OGL to evaluate where we are at ability wise at the moment. It was great to see how much emphasis OGL has on it’s participants and what they get out of it. Both Jussi and KP really care about how we are doing as people, and really try to help in anyway they can so that we can get the most out of our stay here as possible. I felt some of the comments they had regarding me were accurate and I want to take it on board and learn from it.

I spent Wednesday working on some trees and foliage again, however this was not going particularly well so I turned my attention back to some more fun tutorials such as one from Tutor4u on YouTube about making an exploding planet. This was really fun and taught me a little about adding effects to enhance the image as well as learning some more of the modifiers and tools like Cell Fracture and using Particle Effects.

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I also created a bowl with a cloth of some sort draped over the side. This required me to do some animation for the first time and was really quite interesting, despite this temporary laptop struggling with the workload.  This is probably one of the prettiest 3D models I have made, although it was very simple and did not really challenge me or teach me anything new beyond the basic animating.

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Thursday was spent again attempting to make trees and other objects for the game, whilst this was a more successful attempt, I still could not get the leaves to fit the style of which we needed and when I did the tree still did not look right. However making some of the other objects was more simple and was easily done, although some more iterations would be of no harm. I attempted another tutorial that required a simple animation to make an ice 3D model for text. This was also really simple and lead me to attempt something more challenging for myself.

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So on Thursday evening – Friday morning I was eager to attempt something that would be slightly more challenging, I decided to look a little more into the animation side of things with a tutorial from Jjannaway3D on how to make a fire animation. Whilst this was not overly difficult to understand or follow, due to this temporary laptop’s limitations it took a long time to produce the animation. The tutorial was really useful and taught me more about the animation process on blender. I will be looking more into this in the future alongside making more 3D models and practising tutorials.

So this week I leave you with my fire animation, I hope you have enjoyed the animation and this weeks update. See you all soon!

Oulu Game Lab: Week 6, Learning Blender

It is that time again. In case you are a first time reader I shall give you a quick background to set the scene! I am a third year Product Design student from Coventry University but I have known, for a few years now, that I am not a Product Designer. So when they opportunity to take an international trip to Oulu, Finland in order to study and work in the Video Game industry came up, I jumped at the chance. In a whirlwind 3 months since then, I found myself stepping foot into the Oulu Game Lab studio and felt more at home then I have anywhere else in the world, all despite not speaking a word of the language.

Now it is six weeks in for my journey into the Video Games industry, and I am still enjoying this as much as I was from the first day. I started off on a project called Elemental Emotions which I worked as producer on. However, this project was cut during gate two and half-way through the fifth week I found myself on a new team and a new project, which at the moment I cannot discuss too openly in order to maintain some of our strategy for releasing information on the game. The project is good however, and I know just from speaking to gamers every day for years that it’s the kind of game lots of people are going to want to play, and I am delighted to be having a hand in it’s production.

So now that I have brought you up to date, what have I been doing this week? Well to start with I am going to explain my role with-in the team. At the moment I am working mainly as an artist for the game, now anybody who knows me well knows that I would much rather be designing the game and that is 100% true, however when I get back to the UK it will be near impossible for me find a position as a Game Designer at an established company. I stand a way better chance as a specialised artist which I already have a background in. So whilst I am not in my preferred role, I am still very excited and very committed to the project. There will be those of you out there thinking; ‘Oh he is so naive, wanting to be a game designer, most people who say that just have an idea for a setting and think that makes them a Game Designer.’ Well to those of you I would say I have been studying design now for 7 years, and when you break it down design has the same goal regardless of it’s medium. It is about crafting an experience for someone. It is about considering every last detail and gearing it towards a certain direction for the project so everything works in tandem to provide a full and enriching experience to a player or a user, it is only the tools and techniques we use to create that experience that differ and those tools and techniques can be learned. The thought process of a designer, however, cannot. Sorry for going off on a tangent, I just wanted to get that off of my chest.

So this week has been mainly art based. I have spent every day this week learning a free 3D digital modeling program called Blender. Now jumping into Blender is not the easiest at first, I would say it probably has the worst UI and controls of any program I have used. However once you get your head around it, it really becomes a fun and useful tool for your collection of skills. I started off Monday with a team meeting regarding funds and where to allocate them in buying Unity assets. The rest of Monday and Tuesday was spent just watching tutorials on YouTube so that I could get my head around the interface and tools within Blender itself. These were useful but could only get you so far. Wednesday, I started my first 3D model on Blender (Below). It was a really simple model of a ceramic mug which got me used to the basics, of creating and manipulating an object into a form, using some simple modifiers and using the rendering tools to create a final render of the object.

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After making the cup I felt I had a reasonable grasp of the basics, and  anyone who knows me knows I am pretty good at getting in over my head so Wednesday Afternoon & Thursday Morning I decided to attempt and advanced tutorial to build a Sci-Fi themed corridor. This involved a lot more complex tools, it was very difficult to keep all the points in the right positions. The ‘final’ result was an acceptable Sci-Fi corridor but after fourteen consecutive hours of 3D modeling, I eventually needed sleep so settled for what I had, despite it’s lack of detail. With more energy I would have wanted to created some  panels to include some fuses and engineering stuff to give the corridor a more authentic feel. I think I will re-do this corridor sooner or later and have it more slick with a window looking out on the vast open space of the universe! I wish I had the ability to make what I see in my head, as it would be so fricking awesome.

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After creating the Sci-Fi corridor, I decided to do something a little more simple… or so I thought. My next project was again Sci-Fi themed and was a space ship. This took me the best part of two days to make and render. I am not totally happy with it as some of my surface work was sloppy, but for my third ever Blender model I guess it is acceptable!

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On Saturday I felt like making a really quick model of a sword as I am just as much of a Fantasy fan as I am a Sci-Fi fan! This model literally took just an hour and it is very messy but it was the first model I did completely without any tutorial or help from somewhere online. The fact that I can already make stuff just from my head to an okay standard is certainly promising from my point of view, and now it is important that I keep working on Blender to develop my skills to a much higher standard.

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So there it is, that was my week’s work. Ultimately in terms of pure hours spent working this has been a very long week, but trust me when I say I have enjoyed it immensely. My next task is to start taking some of the concept work Dom has been working on for our project and turn them into 3D models that can be used in our game. The sooner we get working on it the better the end result will be, as OGL’s motto seems to appear; fail faster.

Thank you for reading, any feedback on my writing or my models would be really appreciated. I have some blog posts regarding the next Mass Effect game lined up for this week also so keep an eye out for that.

See you next week!

Oulu Game Lab Week 5: New Project

Wow 5 weeks in already, and in that 5 weeks I feel like I have been working harder than I can remember in the last few years. Well I shall keep this weeks post short, as it is already late, and I imagine both of us have work to be getting on with; yay for Monday mornings!

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So last week started off with my acquiring a temporary laptop from OGL so that I was not completely useless over the next few weeks, and from that working on our concept proposal that was to be presented on Wednesday, and that already feels like months ago. Ultimately our work was stretched too thin, and despite giving a decent account of ourselves during the pitching session we ultimately could not convince the judges of our concepts viability, in hindsight and after seeing everyone else’s work it’s clear the concept was not ready to go through, and as project manager I take that responsibility upon myself especially as it was our poor time management that ultimately cost us.

We finished 9th out of 10 concepts and well outside of the top 5 for getting to the demo phase of OGL, which meant that my team and I were to be separated, and redistributed to the teams that had made it through. I ended up on the team that overall did the best in gate 2, in my opinion and I am delighted to be working with them. Although I have mainly been brought in for my product design skills I hope to have an input in the design elements of the game too. The end of the week was mainly team building, aimed at integrating the four new team members into the team, one of the other new members being my room mate and partner in crime Dom, we were worried before about having nothing to talk about on the way home, but now we are on the same project and the football season is coming to an end, that seems to be becoming a reality. However I am looking forward to getting to work on the game this week and pushing the concept forward in this demo phase, we have a meeting this afternoon to discuss the direction of the project and our roles within the team so that is where my focus mainly lays today.

Apart from work I have also taken part in a few Unity lectures, I was doing pretty well until it came to the coding where I became lost and decided it would be better to work at my own pace via online tutorials. This week I aim to figure out some more Blender and Unity tools whilst working on some more Photoshop, but until the meeting this afternoon nothing for this weeks timetable is set in stone.

Ultimately I feel this week has been the toughest on me yet, by Wednesday I was stretched to breaking point and I still do not feel totally recovered despite almost a whole weekend of catching up on sleep. However despite the pressure of the week was high, so was the amount I learnt about myself and how much I still have to learn.

See you all next week!

Oh and still disappointed CM Punk was not at Wrestlemania! 😦