The Effect on Us

Femshep (1024x1024)When he began working on the ending of Mass Effect 2, lead cinematic animator Parrish Ley felt like a fraud.  There were so many issues to sort out, he didn’t know where to begin.

By the start of the Suicide Mission, there were hundreds of player choices to account for that resulted in thousands of possible scenarios. As work on the mission progressed, it was like trying to unspool a spider web.

“It was the kind of thing where you think, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing,’” Ley said. “It was a complex piece of branching narrative. We wanted to make sure it felt right for the players who did it, but at the same time, under the hood there were a lot of things running.”

Because they couldn’t say for certain which characters the player would have in their party, how many of them had completed loyalty missions, or which ones might die, even the most basic questions like who would deliver what lines became a nightmare.

Unfortunately, in situations like this, there’s no real Eureka moment or a silver bullet to take the beast down. In reality, there’s a group of people in a room who’ve missed a couple showers and skipped a few meals, working on the problem over and over and over until it’s solved.

“It started out utterly broken to the point where it was totally unplayable and we looked at each other and thought, ‘I don’t know what’s going on. We’re not going to be able to ship this game. This is crazy,’” Ley says. “And we would play it and go back to our desks and work on it. And every day it would get a little bit better, and a little bit better.”

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While players remember the emotional moments and intimate scenes, it’s often the hours that went into crafting them that stick with developers. Creating games is an intensely personal experience, says lead level designer Rick Knowles. You help a game develop over months and years, forging it into something you’re proud of.

“As developers, we’re also gamers, and I feel privileged to make games we want to play,” Knowles says. “I think we’d feel we failed if we built a game that we didn’t want to play.”

How you end up can often be miles from where you start out, he says. This was the case with ME3’s multiplayer. The original idea was to have a co-op mode. But the more they tried to hammer out the dents, the worse it felt.

“It took a very long time to settle on a model that we felt worked well. We tried out different layouts, different creatures, different settings,” Knowles says. “We were very conscious from the beginning to not just make a straight-up multiplayer experience. It had to have some narrative context.”

They addressed this by creating objectives, which gave weight and purpose to each mission. And though the stories are smaller and more contained, Knowles and his team built internal narratives into each map that would later inform design decisions. This is why the hazard version of Firebase Dagger features a sandstorm, for instance. It doesn’t just make the map more difficult; it makes sense in the context of downed satellite dishes.

Earth DLC BannerBut while you could put a lifetime of hours into developing a game, eventually it has to ship, and developers then must sit back and watch as players take over and experience it.

The day ME2 launched, Kris Schoneberg and her fellow level designers crowded around a computer screen, watching a live stream of an early playthrough. They were eager to see how the player would react to certain plot points, and how they would handle the challenges the team had so lovingly devised.

“They got to the Warden Kuril boss fight in the Jack mission,” Schoneberg says, laughing. “And I watched the guy just die over and over again, and I thought, ‘I’m sorry. I hope you’re having fun.’”

Patrick Weekes, a writer on all three games, had a similar experience on ME2. “I was watching a playthrough of a super-renegade player doing Tali’s loyalty mission. He was about to finish the trial, and after all his renegade decisions, I really didn’t want to watch him break Tali’s heart. Then he pauses the playthrough, goes to the chat box, and says, ‘I don’t know what to do, guys. I don’t wanna hurt Tali.’ Seeing that something I was part of connected with a fan deeply enough to affect his decisions made me realize how special this series really was.”

As time goes on, the series becomes more and more the property of fans, and they begin to develop their own ideas about what makes and defines Mass Effect, says executive producer Casey Hudson. And while this can at times cause resistance toward new ideas, ultimately it’s a sign that the characters and stories the developers created are resonating.

“You can have characters in a story, but that’s kind of different from building memorable characters that transcend the story,” Hudson says. “These characters that we have in the Mass Effect series, people want to takes these characters further out of the story and see them in comics and books and they want to know more about these characters.”

SquadDLC is among the many good ways to tell new stories, says producer Mike Gamble. Here in these smaller, more contained adventures, the team can take more risks and explore ideas that just couldn’t fit into the main game.

It also gives members of the ME team a chance to get back together with old friends, Gamble says—a big part of what made the series great in the first place.

“When we first start to make games, we have everyone from different departments each with an idea of what the game looks like,” he says. “Being able to work together for a long time, you start to develop trust, and those walls go away and you can drive toward a singular purpose.”

While the Citadel DLC was a farewell to Shepard and the crew of the Normandy for fans, inside the studio, the developers said their own goodbyes.

“We were sad when Shepard’s story was over. There was definitely a solemnness in the room,” Schoneberg says. “The last thing I worked on was the party in Citadel, and the party ends with a group photo. I manipulated my save file to show the guests I’d have on my game at home. When that last screen came up with that group photo, I got a little choked up and a little teary eyed, because I realized, ‘Well, this is it.’”

Weekes has a different memory of the party. “I’d always told fans that the one thing we’d never do was a cocktail party, because how could you handle that much conversation? How do you let the players feel like they’re chatting with people and moving around in a natural way with so many possible permutations? And then on Citadel, our lead, Mac Walters, said, ‘I think we need to do a party,’ and sure enough, he and Kris and some of the other writers actually came up with a structure that made it work. It’s just one more time that people on the team proved me wrong and did the impossible to make something really special.”

Though that party in Citadel may mark the end of Shepard’s story, it’s far from the end of Mass Effect. As the fourth title in the ME universe begins its development, the team is carrying forward all the things that made the Shepard’s trilogy so memorable.

“It’s the idea of exploring a vast universe: going out and seeing amazing new things. It’s scale: seeing new planets, new species, and having choices that matter. Because it’s a story, and one that you care about,” Hudson says. “It’s going to continue on, and the things people love about Mass Effect they’ll see even better in the next generation of games.”

MP Survey Results and Conclusions

Written by: Bastiaan Frank, Lead Level Design ME3

Summary

We received an incredible response to our multiplayer level survey and would like to thank all 26,000 participants.  The data you provided has been illuminating, and we’ve summarized the results below.

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Looking at the data, we see interesting connections. In general, the gameplay and overall scores are closely tied to the difficulty score. The easier the level, the more people enjoy it. Our telemetry supports this, showing that easier levels were played the most.

Firebase Glacier is a prime example. This popular level received average gameplay and overall scores, and it was also one of the easiest levels to complete. In was the fourth favorite map out of 19.

The exception is the Hazard version of Firebase Ghost (Acid Rain), which scored well overall but was also difficult. It had a much higher difficulty rating than Firebase Ghost, which might explain why the Hazard version is not played as much online as the normal version despite it receiving a strong popular vote.

Map Comments

We received a lot of great feedback on each level through this survey.  The next section summarizes the most common feedback for each level.

Condor:

Condor splits our fans into two groups. Some people loved the map, especially for its great atmosphere, and others didn’t enjoy the map at all. The feedback mentions issues with the slow ammo timer and with cover. The design of the map is open and allows for many lines of fire against the player, making the map difficult.

Dagger (and Hazard Version)

There are a lot of Dagger fans out there! Many of you liked the long ranges that made this a great sniping map, and it still had enough close ranged combat options to support every play style.

The map was a bit too open for some people, resulting in too much fire from too many directions. This issue was exacerbated in the Hazard (Sandstorm) version of the level. The sandstorm was a great visual event that hindered the player’s ability to see, but unfortunately it did not hinder the vision of the enemies. This was brought up as a big concern.   

Ghost (and Hazard Version)

Firebase Ghost was our second-most popular map due to its balanced gameplay for short- and long-range experts. People mostly enjoyed the cover layout in the level and the visuals of the Hazard version (Acid Rain).

This level’s biggest drawback was its extraction point being lower than the surrounding area and being light on cover. Players enjoyed the level overall, but the extraction point was a concern.

Giant (and Hazard Version)

Most comments on this level were positive. Overall, a lot of people thought this was a good, if not a great map. Giant was also considered easy—even too easy for some players. Its mix of open and closed areas with chokepoints and sniping opportunities were key positives.

There are mixed opinions on the extraction point. Some people found it easy, others hard. The key was controlling the chokepoints, but the player had no way out if they failed to do so.

Comments on Giant’s Hazard version (Night) focused on the improved visuals and atmosphere, but the consensus was that gameplay was less fun.

Glacier (and Hazard Version)

The most common comment on Glacier was that the map was too small. This tiny level is favored by close combat fans for its franticly fast pace. It’s quite easy to play so long as you maintain control of the area.

The Hazard version (Seeker Swarm) puts greater pressure on team coordination and map control. The seeker swarms made the map harder, and many players enjoyed the challenge. Others preferred the map without the addition.

And yes, Mordin did find a way to combat seeker swarms in ME2. Unfortunately, Mordin was not around to adapt his solution to the modification Cerberus made to this map’s swarms… ;)

Goddess

Goddess was seen as a pretty level with solid gameplay that kept you on your toes. The visuals were praised as one of the best of all the MP maps, and the gameplay was especially good for well-organized teams that liked to run and gun. The objectives were deemed difficult, though, as it was too easy to get surrounded.

Hydra

Hydra’s visuals received a lot of praise. (This made the artist very happy!)  Many players—especially snipers—liked the open style of the main area. Players noticed that difficulty was dependent on the enemy palette chosen. We received a lot of feedback on the extraction, with some wishing there were different locations and others wishing there was more cover or line-of-sight blockers in the current location.

Jade

Jade had something for every play style. Other than the extraction zone, where the cover was too light, the gameplay was received well. Other comments mention the importance of staying coordinated as a team to prevent getting surrounded. Jade’s visuals were praised as was the overall experience. It was considered a fun map.

London

The main comments on London were on cover and the open nature of the map. Players found a lack of cover in certain areas that made enemies difficult to deal with. This difficulty level generated a lot of comments, and the hack location in the middle of the map was particularly hard. Still, feedback was largely positive, with ammo distribution and the map’s visuals getting positive reviews.

Reactor (and Hazard Version)

Reactor generated a lot of discussion about the map’s enemies. The bug in which enemies got stuck was a sore point as was the layout and lighting, which made it hard to find enemies or anticipate their movement. Still, there were a lot of positive comments about good sniping opportunities and the balance of the map vs. each character class.

The Hazard version (Meltdown) was definitely more popular than the base version with players enjoying the interactive part of the map. Overall, players were split 50/50 on whether they had fun with their teammates or were simply scared of getting trapped inside by them. An earlier warning would have been desirable.

Rio

We received a lot of good feedback on Rio that we will account for in the future. This map was initially loved by players, but over time it became less popular. The “box of shame” bug was frequently called out as a negative. The layout was also somewhat controversial in that it encouraged specific play styles in different areas. This was seen as a negative when compared to maps that allowed a mix of play styles. Players enjoyed this map’s long ranges and that it emphasized teamwork. They found that working well together decreased the map’s difficulty, but they also found that small errors could quickly turn a sure victory into defeat.

Vancouver

This map is praised for how it plays with verticality more than any other level. While there was a good deal of positive feedback for this level, it was seen as a tad dull in some areas. Overall, though, it gave players a great experience and had a great skybox. The biggest issue mentioned was that the ladder in the middle of the map should not have been so heavily relied upon as a main thoroughfare.

White (and Hazard Version)

This map received the most positive feedback. Players overwhelming felt that the layout corrections were for the best. There were good discussions about how the map discouraged players from camping and from employing a single strategy for all the games in the level. The majority of players (past and present) enjoyed White for its gameplay and excellent visuals.

Comments on the Hazard version (Whiteout) focused on the unmanageable visibility that was caused by the overlaying effects of certain powers like Krogan Rage and Adrenaline Burst in combination with the snowstorm. The atmosphere created by the snowstorm was appreciated, but the problems held the map back in its fun rating.

Conclusion

As you can see, we got a lot out of this survey. It was a huge success and we want to end with thanking everyone for participating. This report is just the tip of the iceberg! We learned way more than what we specifically mentioned here. Your comments were informative and fun to read—we even got a haiku or two! This survey shows us just how much you care, and we will make sure to use all this valuable feedback in the future.

Thanks so much!

The Mass Effect team

Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer Map Survey

Firebase Glacier Seeker Swarm

Hello, Mass Effect 3 multiplayers!

 

Edit added April 19. Thanks for taking part everyone. This survey is now closed. Keep checking the BioWare Blog for future surveys.

The Mass Effect team is looking back at Mass Effect 3 multiplay and needs your feedback on the different multiplay maps you encountered. Those Mass Effect fans who enjoyed playing multiplay are encouraged to take a new survey to gauge your thoughts on multiplay elements like map layout, difficulty and atmosphere in ME3 multiplayer.

If you were a fan of multiplay in Mass Effect 3 and want to give your opinion to the team, please take a moment to answer our Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer Map survey. The survey will be open for one week to collect responses.

Thanks, everyone!

Blog: Mike Gamble

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Written by: Producer, Mike Gamble (@GambleMike)

Post launch support is something that we’ve taken very seriously at BioWare. Since ME2, we’ve worked hard to make our DLCs special, and expand our worlds in fantastic ways – long after the game has been released. DLC gives us an opportunity to try new things (Lair of the Shadowbroker car chase, Citadel party), but also gives us an opportunity to tell interesting stories that, while related to the core game experience, are fun and unique in their own way.

Downloadable content at BioWare also gives us the opportunity to use our extremely talented team, and further develop their skills. To provide good post launch support, there’s sort of an ebb and flow to things. We have to balance between teams in BioWare Edmonton and BioWare Montreal. Focus on supporting single player adventures, as well as multi player expansions. All the while, we need to maintain a consistent level of quality in these packs, while listening to our fans for feedback and support.

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When I was first asked to be the Producer for the ME3 DLC plan, we were somewhere in the twilight hours of development on the ME3 base game. Of course, at that time, the entire team was desperately trying to pack as much quality into the remaining time– so I can easily admit my focus wasn’t yet on the year *after* we shipped the game. We just needed to make sure we released an awesome game. Besides, I thought, I had been the Producer for most of the ME2 DLC…what could possibly go wrong or be different?  Fast forward to the day that we submitted the main game to certification. Many cheers and high-fives were given around the office, but for me and the first DLC team – work was only really getting going.

From the beginning, the objective for us was clear. We wanted Mass Effect 3 to be a game that people loved for the entire year, long after they had finished it the first time. We wanted to broaden the story that we had produced in the main game, deepen relationships, add new characters and amazing missions, and support this little feature called Multiplayer the best we could. These were the key pillars of the plan, but of course, plans are built so that they can change…and I’m glad they did!

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As soon as we completed the main game, we moved onto From Ashes nearly immediately. From Ashes was a tough one. The team had been pushing pretty hard to complete the main game, and everyone deserved a nice break. Well, everyone except for the From Ashes team! We had learned a lot from our previous character DLCs, and decided to ensure that we focused our development on broadening Javik as a character, and fully integrating him into the ME3 story. Doing that is a huge task, and it involved a bit of planning and foresight as you need to put certain hooks into the main-game for it to connect to the DLC content properly.

We also needed to make sure that Javik felt just as fleshed out as the other squad mates. We learned what we did right and what we needed to improve with previous characters like Zaeed and Kasumi. For Javik, we ended up writing numerous character moments for him, making him part of squad banter, and developing his personal story throughout the large arc of ME3.

After From Ashes launched, we were inspired by the amount of great feedback we had received regarding the character. People found him strong, intelligent, and humorous. It was positive and reassuring to know that the fans loved him. We were, of course, seeing feedback for other aspects of the game too – interpreting the feedback on the endings of the main game became a strong focus for the ME3 team, and helped us to shape the direction of DLC in the coming months.

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The Extended Cut was an extremely challenging but rewarding experience. On one side, we wanted to ensure that we put the Extended Cut out as soon as we could for the fans to enjoy with their playthroughs. To that end, we reprioritized the DLC team to put the Extended Cut first on the schedule. On the other side, we wanted to make sure the extended cut answered a lot of the questions that the fans had as well as provide additional clarity and closure. The core ME3 leads and DLC team sat down together for nearly a week and charted out the entire ending sequence on a giant flow chart, with a consolidated list of fan feedback up on the projector screen to ensure we were capturing the right goals.

We made additions, tweaks, and adjustments to the flow, and built in the expanded depth that you see in the Extended Cut. We tried to account for as many characters, plots, and variables as we could fit into the DLC – constantly battling the download size, with some platforms having an upper limit of 2 GB (a technical limit we eventually solved for the Citadel pack).  With the Extended Cut’s size and complexity, it was sometimes a dice roll whether or not the build would succeed. It was a hard push to the end… but the team enjoyed the opportunity to spend a little more time resolving the end of the trilogy.  When the Extended Cut was released, there was a unanimous breath of relief from the entire DLC team. Onward to our next DLC.

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Next for us was Leviathan. Because the extended cut reprioritized our time, we were able to spend some more energy on the ideation process around what we wanted Leviathan to be. Interestingly, it took us some time to actually figure out what we wanted to cover in our first ME3 story-based DLC. Was it a story that was parallel to the war, or tangential? Did it focus on the Krogan? Or perhaps the Salarian STG groups? As we went through this exercise, we eventually solidified on one thing.

We wanted the DLC to be about exploring the galaxy, and giving the player a mystery to solve. The fun part, for us, was to see how we could make that work within the framework of ME3. Our fantastic writing team took that concept, and worked with a number of ideas that they were tossing around at the time (Leviathan of Dis was one of those!). In the end, the story of Leviathan, and its connection to the origin of the Reapers was one that we were all excited for.

After the initial concept, the development process for Leviathan went fairly smoothly, and we made sure we included a lot of existing elements that we knew the fans would enjoy (squad banter, deep character interactions, etc). Of course, while the BioWare Edmonton team was working on Leviathan, the team in Montreal was cooking up something special as well.

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Omega was different for us for a variety of reasons. First, it was developed primarily by the team at BioWare Montreal, and it had begun development shortly after the release of ME3.  Second, Omega gave us the ability to return to a much-beloved area from ME2, and really flesh it out like we had never been able to do before. What does Omega look like underneath the shopping district you saw in ME2? How far would Aria go to reclaim it? What other interesting enemies and friends called the space station their home? The focus for the team in Montreal was to really answer some of those questions, and to create new places and characters that broadened the series.

Of particular note, Omega also gave us the ability to explore a new character by the name of Nyreen. She was a female turian, and while we had alluded to female turians before, we had never shown one. Of course, a lot of the driving force behind that came directly from the fans and their feedback. I don’t think we could have predicted how popular Nyreen ended up being with the fans, but we’re glad she did. We were recently discussing some of the amazing cosplay we recently saw at PAX, and were proud that she was an inspirational character for some.

Citadel

Our final DLC for the trilogy, Citadel, was a real treat for us to do, and personally it was my favorite DLC to work on since Shadow Broker. It allowed us to close out the trilogy while adhering to the pillars that Mass Effect has become known for. We’re very much aware that Mass Effect is driven by the incredible characters which incorporate the galaxy, so even our earliest plans for ME3 DLC had us ending on one last adventure that focused on memorable moments with favorite characters. Of course, with the Citadel being an iconic location for us, we also wanted to showcase some of the areas of the space station that players had previously only wondered about – but without a doubt, our focus was on the characters.

That’s why, when we started production on the Citadel, we ensured that the writing and cinematics teams were well equipped to bring our characters to life in new and exciting ways. A tango for Garrus? A music performance from Tali? All of these scenes worked into the larger theme of the pack – a love letter from us, to the trilogy and to our fans. We wanted to round out the pack with some amazing additions (such as the Casino Hub area and the Combat Simulator), in order to add additional value to the pack, and to give us an opportunity to bring in some of the gameplay advances that we’d been pushing in multiplayer over the past year. Now that it’s all completed, we’ve been humbled by the fan reaction to it.

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Of course, no discussion of DLC would be complete without talking about our multiplayer content as well. Originally, we didn’t know what to expect from players regarding multiplayer. We had never done a feature like this in Mass Effect before, but we hoped that it would prove itself when the game released. Needless to say, we were pleasantly surprised. From the beginning, we had always planned to support the MP feature with free DLC. What we didn’t plan for is how much we would end up doing!

We wanted to keep the player-base from becoming splintered (those who did download the DLC vs. those who didn’t), and we wanted to make sure that everyone had access to the content. Once we saw that people were playing (and loving) multiplayer, our imaginations went wild. What other features could we add? How many more kits would the engine support? Could we give players access to new challenges, and have their progress reflected on the web? We were able to do all of that, and more.

We have an extremely talented levels and gameplay team who have been tasked over the past year with making multiplayer an ever-growing service.  Our only constraint has been how quickly we were able to get the content out. Since we’ve always been developing a story-based single player DLC, it normally meant that we had to develop the multiplayer content at the same time. That was a bit tough on the team, but we have an extremely experienced team, and they were able to deal with it. A full year and 5 multiplayer expansions later, we’ve packed the game to the gills, and it was only possible thanks to your support.

I sincerely hope that we’ve been able to entertain you over the past year, and I’m glad we have such an amazing fan base. You’ve been great. You tell us what works and what doesn’t, and you’ve helped to make this year one of the most rewarding of my life. Thank you.

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BLOG: Bryan Johnson

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What a year it has been! I have learned so much from our fans and have enjoyed interacting with them a great deal. I hope that I will be able to replicate the same satisfaction that I have gotten out of the last year for anything I may do in the future.

The passion of our fans is a motivation for me, because they are the ones that ultimately make this all possible. After so many late nights interacting with all of you, I can honestly say I would not trade it for anything.

I don’t have much else to say other than thank you all for the laughs, the tears, and the memories.

-Bryan “BroJo” Johnson

Senior Tester