As the chief creative officer of EA's RPG/MMO division, Greg Zeschuk is no longer just shaping the path for BioWare's own games, but a larger proportion of the gaming output of one of the biggest publishers in the world.
With Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age, the veteran developer he hails from sent out a two-pronged attack on gaming audiences: one markedly traditional and the other streamlined and slick, based on user feedback and a desire to capture a larger audience by better positioning the game's features.
Here, Zeschuk discusses design philosophy of BioWare's current and upcoming RPGs -- the two already mentioned, and Star Wars: The Old Republic -- and how different games require different approaches.With Mass Effect 2, there was very much a kind of streamlining and toning down of the R and P elements of the RPG. Is that for opening the market or is it addressing complaints?
Greg Zeschuk: I think it was a combination of things. On one hand, definitely with Mass 2, we wanted to appeal more to the folks who play shooters. There are a lot of shooter fans that love great stories and want to play a great single-player extended experience. That was part of it.
Another part of it was obviously the first game wasn't perfect. It was one of those, I think people commonly call it a "flawed masterpiece" type game, where it had a lot of great stuff. It presented the universe, it was so exciting; but the mechanics, moment-to-moment gameplay, framerate, all these things weren't as tight as they needed to be.
A lot of the changes were done to kind of walk the line between the those things, to sort of say, "If you want a little more accessibility..." But we also wanted to address things that really complicated the game [like the] inventory system.
The key thing [is that] I like the way the team did it in that almost all the functionality is still there in a lot of ways. You're modding weapons and putting in fire bullets, or flame bullets... Okay, it's been taking out like a complicated GUI interface, and now it's simply one of your powers that you can use. So, a lot of the stuff is actually still there, but we just felt that it was better to actually present it differently.
The user interface for both Dragon Age and Mass Effect were hard for me to really grab, and Mass Effect 2 is much more streamlined. Is this UI a response to players' difficulties, or is it really more about integrating with the different gameplay direction?
GZ: To talk about each game specifically, in the case of Dragon Age, it was initially designed as a PC game primarily, and then console was added. So, the really challenge on the console side was to try to capture all the functionality that we had on the PC and not strip anything out.
In fact, actually, the accessibility tools, we have even potion button which you can [automatically use for] drinking potions. [It will] find, in your inventory, the best potion to approximate the amount of hit points you want to recover. So the challenge was, okay, address the fact that you have as many as 50 powers. How would we represent those for the player?
Whereas Mass Effect, it was about streamlining. We wanted people to focus on things that we did best in a game, which is the cinematic storytelling and what we think was going to be a very strong thing, which was the action. And so, by kind of redirecting players' attention there, we felt that that would be a better overall experience.