We finally got our hands-on Mass Effect: Andromeda at a recent event at EA's UK office, and while we were there we were lucky enough to grab an interview with the game's producer, Fabrice Condominas. While there was some background noise that muffled a couple of his answers, it was still an interesting and informative conversation about the upcoming sci-fi adventure, and you can read the whole interview below:
So rolling back the years, five years ago, what was the genesis for Andromeda? What was the spark that turned it from being what was presumably one of several concepts into the game that we've just played?
Exploration was really the key word. We wanted to get back to the feeling of going back to the uncharted worlds, going back to also an epic setting in space, that was the other thing that talked to us fairly quickly. Bring back the space in space opera. But if you look for really one specific thing that we said 'yeah, we need to expand on that' that was the notion of exploration. And I would say the second notion that I mentioned this morning was the idea that the player as a human, we wanted him to be the alien in the next setting, to be the intruder.
How do you go about designing a new setting so that it feels like something that we can relate to, to the point that we can engage with it, but that also feels intrinsically alien?
It's a mix of two things. The first one is fictional. So you need memorable planets, you need meaningful settings and all that to drive your story along. So you define all that. And then the second thing is actually scientific. The reason we chose that cluster is because we knew it would have enough celestial bodies and planets a certain distance from the centre, and this is from the centre of the galaxy, that life might be possible, or a form of life might be possible. And you take it from there, from the size of the planet, and then you do that mix of realism and totally fictional needs.
And then also, we're a franchise, which means there's an aesthetic that exists, there is an art direction that exists, so you make sure also that anything new, including any races, which means alien architecture for example, you still want, when you take a screenshot, people to say 'oh, this is Mass Effect'. Even if it's brand new. That's not easy, that's actually a challenge. But the way you do it really is through iteration, you go through iteration. And we always start, for example, on the aliens we start with 'what do we want to convey, what is the emotion we want to convey', and we start from there. And then the art goes, and everything goes around with it. But again, for everything, we like to say that we don't want to be a realistic game, but we want to be a credible game. So it's that mix between the fiction and reality. We try to find that balance and take it from there.
There must be a lot of science for the team to get their heads around to make it plausible.
Oh yes, and we're working with... I was three days ago with the European Space Agency, for example. And we have a scene where, at the beginning of the game the shuttle crashes and he breaks his helmet, and he uses his omni-glove to repair his helmet. And when I showed it at the European Space Agency someone in the room said 'oh, im working on that'. And it took me a couple of seconds to realise that he wasn't joking at all, he was genuinely working on that. But the point is we're working with those guys; space agencies, engineers, xeno-biologists who verify how we animate the aliens. Are they actually credible, could it be real? And at the same time we already have aliens, we have spaceships. So again it's not about reality, it's about credibility.
What would you say is the biggest element that you've left behind from the original trilogy? What aspects from those games aren't really a focus in Andromeda?
That's a tough question because a trilogy of three games that have three different focus already. I don't know, it's not really a question we ask ourselves because it goes the other way around. We ask ourselves 'what do we want to bring from each instalment from the trilogy' rather than leaving. It's three different games so it's hard to say exactly, but what we wanted to bring was definitely the strengths of each: so the exploration and the RPG mechanics of the one. The character relationships of the two. The combat system which was way the more dynamic, action-based of the three. And the problem is that those were more extreme in each of these instalments, and we wanted to find a balance between those three elements, and you end up taking five years to make a game. But that was the idea, which element we bring, not the element we don't.