Co-op effect

Mass Effect 3

So it’s finally official, Mass Effect 3 is to include a multiplayer mode. When the news first broke yesterday, no one quite knew what the details of this mode and naturally the fears of a compromised single player campaign floated to the top of the internet. After all, it has been said that ME3 will be the most accessible for newcomers or a wider gaming audience and tacking on a multiplayer mode would certainly help this. But before things got out of hand, BioWare forum aficionado Chris Priestly posted on the official site that the multiplayer component will actually be a co-operative mode, mostly separate from the campaign. I say mostly because, as Priestly stresses, the new addition is designed to compliment the campaign not withhold content to solo only players. The better you do in co-op, the higher Commander Shepard’s ‘galactic readiness’ stats go up but you can just as easily do this on your own in the campaign.

Good news then. If you want Mass Effect 3 to be a one player only game then you can have just that. And the development hasn’t been affected either. A new studio was formed in Montreal to take care of all things multiplayer while the folks at Edmonton got on with the main game. Remember that infamous job posting from June last year? This is the result.

The co-op mode will allow up to four players to, well, all that’s been said so far is fight in what’s being called the Galaxy at War System, influencing Shepard’s stats as they do so. Sounds like it could very well be a horde equivalent which would fit within the concept of Mass Effect. And if it is to be as minimally intrusive to single player as BioWare promises, a horde mode that doesn’t necessarily need much narrative feels right. What the co-op will also do is introduce a brand new set of characters to develop because Shepard is exclusive to the campaign and his story ends with Mass Effect 3. But the franchise will not. Bringing in new characters that players can directly interact with is a great way of bridging future Shepard-less titles. And why no deathmatch or usual multiplayer modes? Because that would be stupid.

More details will be coming soon but at least the will they won’t they saga of Mass Effect‘s multiplayer has come to an end that shouldn’t be offensive to anyone. Well, here’s hoping.


Shepard’s last hurrah

You’d best say your goodbyes to Commander Shepard next March as Mass Effect 3 will be his last appearance in a video game. BioWare ceo Ray Mazuka was asked as this year’s Gamescom by PC Gamer whether Mass Effect 3 will be the last game set in that universe. Echoing comments from previous interviews, Mazuka once again confirmed the company’s desire to further the fiction and world they so painstakingly created:

“We have ambitious plans to continue this franchise going forward. Mass Effect 3 is simultaneously a couple of different things; a thrilling and epic conclusion to the trilogy as we promised our fans we’d provide for Commander Shepard, but it’s also a brand new beginning – it’s an entry point for new fans and it’s also a brand new beginning.”

When asked if Shepard would appear in any more Mass Effect games, producer Michael Gamble said how ME3 will complete the Commander’s storyline and therefore will not be making a comeback.

With the level of detail put into the first two games, following one Commander and their loyal team is just a tiny part of a much larger story. Sure, whether Shepard succeeds or not has greater consequences on the universe as a whole but, like Star Wars, the lesser characters are equally if not more interesting than the one in charge. The loyalty missions from Mass Effect 2 and the franchise’s extensive codex scratch the surface on a vast number of species and personalities all ripe expanding on in someway. I’m curious to find out just how the third game in series can successfully draw in a large number of newcomers but it’s something both BioWare and EA have said a few times now so there’s something going on and I doubt it’s just the optional Kinect features revealed at E3.

Could this latest statement from BioWare add a little more credence to the rumours of a multiplayer co-op shooter set in the universe? It’s been lingering for some time now and was expected to be announced at last year’s Spike VGA’s but never showed up. Some claim it’s an additional mode in Mass Effect 3 whereas others say it’ll be a standalone product. I think it’s safe to say that no one really has any idea. Other than BioWare. And EA. So a couple of people then…

BioWare’s massive effect on the female gamer

Having only ever played the Mass Effect series as a male character, I’ve only ever heard the celebrated voice work of Jennifer Hale, who plays female Commander Shepard, on the odd occasion. But word is Hale out performs her male counterpart and has done so relatively unnoticed by the majority of players so far. Because the games give you the choice to change pretty much all aspects of Shepard from appearance to attitude, BioWare had to design a default character to work on advertising campaigns and box art and until now, it’s always been a dude. But for the third game, the company have begun including the default female Shepard and so far she’s been spotted in a trailer and collector’s edition packaging with BioWare marketing chief, David Silverman, saying there could be more of her to come.

In an interview with VG247, Silverman discussed the debate over male and female Shepard and rattled of a few statistics to boot. Like how only 13 per cent of players use the default Shepard with the rest opting to make changes as they see fit. In total, 18 per cent of gamers will play Mass Effect as a female so whether or not Hale provides the brilliant performance that she does, it starts to look less like stereotyping and sexism that the male Shepard has always been the hero. Not to say that perception can’t change or at least make way for a co-hero. As Silverman points out in the interview, the games industry is lacking in strong female leads so the fact Mass Effect has one is worthy of celebration. But not just because she’s voiced by a talented actress but because a female Shepard represents a quality that BioWare are masters of; giving players choice. Despite a few angry forum posters, gender and indeed the choice of sexuality is something BioWare, for the most part, treat with a great deal of respect. In Mass Effect 3, players can now choose for their male Shepard to be gay which was only reserved for the female Commander in the first two games. Hopefully the implementation will be as humorous as it is poignant since most male Shepard players only chased women in Mass Effect 1 and 2.

On the subject of sexuality, Silverman defended BioWare’s inclusions of the many, many, butt shots and general curvature close-ups of Miranda in Mass Effect 2. Being a guy, I wasn’t overly bothered by them though did find them a tad gratuitous but according to VG247, female players were less than impressed. Silverman insisted the shots were necessary: “The fact is, some characters are defined by their attractiveness, such as a woman who is genetically engineered to be perfect. Camera angles help tell the story and portray key aspects of each character – in Miranda’s case, her curves and sexuality. We had similar shots of Jacob.” I didn’t notice the scenes of Jacob but arguably I wasn’t really looking. While I fully understand the fact that Miranda was meant to be ‘perfect’ so showing off her various curves helped get that point across, I can’t help but think the angles were mainly conceived to show off a nice butt. Now the adolescent heterosexual in me may be shouting “Yay, bum!” but if I listened to him for too long, I’d only be playing Dead or Alive games.

Mass Effect Wii U. Confirmed?

As we all come to terms with the name of Nintendo’s new console, developers and publishers are expressing their interests in creating games for it and especially its tablet controller. Kojima Productions, Activision and THQ are all talking about the Wii U and now the head of EA, Frank Gibeau, hinted at the possibility of a Mass Effect game coming to the system. In a recent interview (via My Nintendo News), Gibeau was asked about bringing Mass Effect 3 to the Wii U and practically confirmed something was coming but not necessarily Shepard’s third outing.

“I can’t say we are going to do it on the Wii U, but you can imagine what we could do with that controller in the Mass Effect universe. It feels like a really nice fit, but we’ll announce that when the time is right.” See what I mean? The time may not be right for an official announcement but that sounds to me like something relating to Mass Effect is headed for the Wii U.

Since the second game, BioWare and EA have both spoken about delving deeper into the rich universe of Mass Effect, making new titles following other story lines, not just the troubles of Commander Shepard. But if it were to be Mass Effect 3, I’d be interested to see how the tablet controller is used after Microsoft revealed its version is to have Kinect support. In a similar train of thought, would that force Sony to add Move controls too? And in answer to Gibeau’s question, yes I can totally imagine what they’d do with the tablet. A touchscreen menu and inventory, safe-cracking mini-games, the 6 inch screen acting like an overhead map for strategic combat scenarios. That kind of thing.

Will Shepard stay on the straight and narrow?

BioWare’s poster boy for Mass Effect has always been the male Commander Shepard and up until now he’s always been straight. If you chose to play as a lass, the opportunity to fornicate grew in size because for whatever reason, a female Shepard is a bi-sexual Shepard. For the third release, everyone’s fair game with both male and female leads having the chance to knock boots with the same sex. Casey Hudson tweeted (via Videogamer) the news over the weekend saying: “Happy to confirm #ME3 supports wider options for love interests incl. same-sex for m&f chars, reactive to how you interact w/them in-game=.”

A little bit of internet searching later and I found that Hudson revealed more to PC Gamer adding the choice of partners will only be those you’ve already met on your travels not anyone new the series. Liara was one of the popular companions from Mass Effect 1 but wasn’t an ‘option’ in the second game but did make a come back as part of the brilliant Shadow Broker DLC. Hudson said that Mass Effect 3 will know if you stayed true to her or indeed whoever you partnered up with in the first game and has the characters react to you accordingly. If you knows that then presumably it’ll know whether you chose the promiscuous route and poor old Shepard will be in for a grilling in ME3.

A neat idea and one that makes sense for the fiction but a bit harsh when considering you are rewarded an achievement for completing the ‘romance quest’ in Mass Effect 2. Anyone hunting for those 25 points could get boned in the third game – and not like that either. I would imagine this will have a greater impact on Xbox 360 and PC players since the first game never came to the PS3 other than in a digital comic form.

BioWare have previously said that the male Shepard was written to be straight because that’s just his character type but it makes you wonder if they’ll be exploring the idea of abused minority groups in ME3 like they did in the second Dragon Age. Within Hawke’s adventure, the mages were seen as the abnormal and should be converted rather than allowed to live with their magic. See the link? Problem is, you can’t please everyone and both straight gamers and gay gamers were angry at DA2‘s concept of sexuality. One forum poster claimed BioWare were ignoring the straight gamer while another suggested gay characters were being stereotyped as being sex-mad. So where does that leave Mass Effect 3? Probably right were BioWare intends it to be as the voice of a handful of upset people won’t effect the bigger picture. Kind of ironic huh? Regardless of that, I’m just fearful of how I’ll be treated when my male Shepard has to explain to Liara and Tali what he’s been up to over the two games…

The best games of 2010: Mass Effect 2

Is it an RPG or isn’t it? Well, I took the role of Commander Shepard and played this game religiously when it came out in January, upgrading my character’s attributes and those of my crew and ship. So I’d say it was and is this year’s best. BioWare chose to streamline a lot of the micro-management and stat shuffling into something that felt a little less involving than its predecessor but made room for a great story and entertaining character interaction. Side missions felt worthwhile and not just a mechanic to level grind as they were in the first game however, this time around, the combat was considerably tighter so having to do it over and over again wouldn’t have hurt so much. In Mass Effect, the most fun for me was exploring every possible conversation possible and the fighting took second place. The sequel changed all that, adding emphasis on combat without jeopardising a great chat system.

After completing Mass Effect 2 I spoke with a mate and we shared our respective experiences only to find they were incredibly different. I finished without any loss of life and throughout the game saw things that he was oblivious too. His journey ended with a number of squad mates dying as well as most of the crew and he acted like an utter git to everyone he met, allowing for some interesting conversations that where alien to me. Such examples sound trivial but I am sparing you from the entire conversation that lasted longer than I’d care to admit! But this is what great games do, they keep you talking about them long after you’re done and cleverly make you crave for a follow-up. Mass Effect 2 is rich in story and life with some of the best battles I’ve played to date. The mix of brute force with peaceful diplomacy gave the game grandeur and elevated BioWare to new levels of appreciation among gamers which is why Mass Effect 2 is my number one game of 2010.

The PS3’s massive effect on an RPG

After a year of listening to Xbox 360 gamers gush over how good Mass Effect 2 is, PS3 owners will be able to taste that sweet slice of RPG pie. Acting as the cherry on top is how Sony’s version will be running on the Mass Effect 3 engine, alluding to the idea of it looking better than its two counterparts. With the demo (so close to release it’s a good representation of the final game) available via PSN, Digital Foundry compared both Xbox 360 and PS3 with a few surprising results. It turns out that change isn’t always for the better thanks to how the game’s Unreal Engine 3 runs on the PS3. There’s not anti-aliasing to speak of on the PlayStation but still manages to look similar to the 360’s efforts and the resolution has clearly been improved on Sony’s big black box, though not the normal-mapping. That appears to be missing altogether. And throughout the demo, some effects have had their resolution dropped adding more artifacts to otherwise smooth graphics. The Foundry used the scene where the curvy Miranda talks to the Illusive Man as an example noting a smidge more blockiness to the backdrop.

Where frame rate is concerned, the 360 is locked at 20FPS and in easier situations to render, can creep above that meaning when the system has a lot to deal with, the very top can suffer from a bit of screen tearing but other than that, its free from having the visuals torn in such a way. For some reason, the PS3 version has no frame-rate locking but does have a default of 30FPS. This however means more screen tearing in both cut-scenes and in-game action which can be really quite annoying. The full comparison goes into a lot more detail and worth a read for anyone interested in how the two platforms handle one of the best games of 2010. The bottom line in this case is that Mass Effect 2 looks brilliant on both Xbox 360 and PS3. One may have a better resolution and the other can run the game without having its screen pulled in two but its all just swings and roundabouts. Running the PS3 version on thew new Mass Effect 3 engine with the few glitches it has, doesn’t mean there’s anything to fear about the quality of the third game either. Eleven months are still to pass before it is even out which is a hell of a long time to iron out any issues of this kind.