Video game Mass Effect 3, developed at Edmonton's BioWare studios, is a commercial and critical hit that is expected to sell millions of copies. BioWare executive producer Casey Hudson talks about the game's appeal, the controversy it's sparked among hard-core fans, and how Canada's game sector can survive.
Q: What's Mass Effect 3's appeal?
A: I think it's because, first of all, it's an interactive story. And even though all video games are interactive and all of them have stories, they don't all let you actually interact with the story. They don't really let you change what the story is. And that gives people a unique level of ownership of the story, and involvement in what happens and the way it plays out. And a lot of that has to do with the characters they create in the game and develop relationships with that are surprisingly strong connections with players.
Q: You've seen that strong connection: Hard-core fans are upset with parts of this game.
A: You have to have a thick skin, for sure, and recognize that, to some degree, a game is a little bit different than a lot of media because the players feel like they own it. They co-own everything that happens in the world. And there are some things that just creatively – whereas, if it's a book or a movie, you want to go a certain direction with it – players may have wanted to see something different. … It does bother me when people get personal. … I think it's easy for people sometimes to lose sight of the fact that we do this because we love the medium, we love storytelling and we love to create a magical experience for players. We do it out of love, so hopefully they can have fun with what we're doing. And if they have criticism, level it in a constructive way because we listen to it.
Q: What's different about this game, compared to the first two?
I think first of all it brings the whole game-play experience full circle, whereas the first games were [role-playing games]and had cinematic stuff and some combat, but it was more of an RPG than a great third-person shooter. So I think the earlier games were trying to find a good balance, and I think that's kind of what we got with Mass Effect 3 – a really good balance of third-person combat that is competitive with the best shooters in the world, RPG systems that are elegant and easy to use but have all the depth we've ever offered before, and then of course is the story stuff, which I think is some of the most compelling and emotion-based stuff we've ever done.
Q: Who is this game for? You seem to be targeting a broad audience.
A: It is an M-rated game, so it's meant for grownups, but outside of that we have a lot of female players. Obviously, being a video game, we have a lot of younger adult players. But we have players of all ages. We go to Comic-Con, we have 18 to 45 [year-olds] And because this is a game that is so much about stories and characters, it brings in a broader demographic than a typical shoot-'em-up game.
Q: The game is unquestionably bleak. Why is that?
A: Over the course of the series, so much of what Commander Shepard is doing is making choices where some sort of sacrifice is involved. There isn't an easy path forward. There's no way to get out of it unscathed. That's what makes Commander Shepard's choices interesting. So, by the time we get to the third game, I think we have a character that, we wanted to reflect the fact that a lot of those choices have been made so far.
Q: Why does BioWare tend to recruit people from such diverse backgrounds?
A: That's what allows us to tell an interesting story, when you combine different perspectives. It's also why I recommend people get a more conventional degree versus getting a game-development diploma or whatever. If your background is in games, then what stories are you going to tell? What experience are you bringing? So I always really like it when we have an animator who worked as a tree-planter for four years, an artist who built furniture for the first part of their career. It brings in perspectives that help you tell a better story.
Q: How can Canada build out its gaming sector?
A: I think it's two things. You have to make great products that are known throughout the world so you can access the world market in terms of talent. And second, when people are here, you need to treat them really well and make sure they have not only the opportunity to build great products and things they'll be proud of, but that they also have a work-life balance.
Q: Was there a moment when you thought, 'We've made it?'
A: It's been building. With Mass Effect 3, we're seeing it mentioned on 30 Rock … so, when it starts getting mentioned that way in other pop culture things, and it's just out there, we've had a lot of those moments on Mass Effect 3 when you can tell it's kind of breaking out in a way it really hasn't before. It's just something that's been building for years.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.