I imagine that as the franchise was pushing that 100 percent Metacritic score, improvement might actually become more difficult. Once you're done fulfilling peoples' expectations, it becomes more difficult for, say, the game designers to figure out the things that people want, because really once players' expectations are fully met, they typically can't identify what more they want.
CH: That's actually a really good point, because anytime you introduce something new it's controversial. Because fans will say, "Well, we never asked for that", you know, "We want you to keep doing exactly the other things that we've liked before."
But at the same time if you do that, of course then you might get the opposite criticism, which is that you're not taking chances as a developer, and just kind of doing the same thing all the time. And it's something that happened to us.
A great example was the new characters that we added for Mass Effect 2. When we started publicly introducing these new characters that would join your team in that game, it was tremendously controversial because people didn't want these new characters that they didn't know; they wanted us to recreate the experience of Mass Effect 1 with those characters.
But the way that we interpret that is that they really want to recreate the magic of Mass Effect 1, which was not just about those original characters, but about having the experience of discovering those characters.
Mass Effect 1 was about learning about all these new places and this new fictional universe and meeting all these characters. So if we brought back the characters, then the experience itself isn't the same, because you already know them. But we needed to have between a combination of bringing back familiar characters, but also allowing you to meet some really amazing new people.
Now we're having a similar challenge with Mass Effect 3, where characters that we're introducing are seen as controversial because people only want their Mass Effect 2 characters, characters which, previously, were kind of met with resentment because we were adding them in the first place.
So can you talk about at all some of the things specifically that you addressed after going through the feedback?
CH: Well, I think on a large scale, one of the somewhat big technical or quality aspects would've been our pursuit of continuous narrative, in that every time [the game is loading], it really interrupts whatever kind of cinematic narrative you're trying to put together. So we took a different approach with Mass Effect 2 where we went to load screens that were themed for what you were actually doing, versus trying to keep you in the game experience.
One of the top complaints for Mass Effect 1 is people didn't like how slow the elevators were, and they wanted to get rid of the elevators. But with Mass Effect 2 -- because we had load screens -- they wanted us to bring back the elevators.
So what it really speaks to is in the Mass Effect series -- like really any game out there -- there's kind of an outstanding challenge of how you keep people in the game experience, even though under the hood you have to do a tremendous amount of loading and unloading of information. We're taking a different approach on with Mass Effect 3, because we're actually trying to create essentially a load-free narrative experience.
One of the criticisms that had floated around regarding Mass Effect 2 was that some people thought the fundamental structure of how you collect the characters and your crew was a little bit rigid. Did you see that criticism, and is that something that you looked at for the third entry?
CH: Well, in the third one there's a different story for other reasons. I mean, each act in a three-act trilogy needs to be about a different kind of thing.
But do you know what I'm referring to? In Mass Effect 2, you go through that series of character stories, and they're great short stories, but after a while it became, "I'm going to do this story and get this character, and then I'm going to go back and then I'm going to go to the next one. Repeat." You know, go back to the ship and then do it again. And then you finally collect them all and then you progress to the endgame. Was that criticism something that you guys saw, or is that criticism something that you even agree with?
CH: I think there are ways that we could've finessed the structure better, so that [the structure] didn't become a target of criticism, or something that was overt as it was. However, the story and the structure of the game -- the fundamental underlying structure of the game -- obviously has a very strong bearing on how big the entire thing can be received.
I think much of why it was able to get into that extremely high territory of 96 on Metacritic and the acclaim that it got, and the things that it was able to pull off emotionally... I think all of those things are a credit to that story structure, and the fact that people know that the type of story they're going into it.
So you really feel like you're taking a plunge when you do that final mission, and you really feel sort of an analog sense to the experience. That's because you have more characters or fewer characters, and make good or bad decisions, make people loyal or disloyal, and then that conflicts with the morality of the player.
So it's doing all of these really good things for the overall experience, but as a structure it can become conspicuous enough that people can focus on it as a point of criticism, even though it's fundamentally the thing that allowed us to do all the good things that Mass Effect 2 achieved in other aspects.