Mass Effect is fast becoming one of the most anticipated games of this year. It's not surprising when you consider it's being developed by BioWare, the same studio which brought us Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire. Not to mention the fact that it's looking superb, as we found out when we got the chance to go hands-on at a special preview event recently.
Here, BioWare president Greg Zeschuk talks more about Mass Effect's cinematic structure and combat system, explains why he believes it's a "true next-gen" title, and reveals his thoughts on the differences between PS3 and Xbox 360.
Eurogamer: Which genres does Mass Effect fit into?
Greg Zeschuk: Obviously, BioWare and RPG go together. We feel though Mass Effect is more than that; it's certainly not a traditional RPG in the sense that, for example, you're not sitting there crunching numbers.
We've tried to distill what BioWare makes down into something different. There are four main aspects to our games: story development, character progression, conflict and exploration. In Mass Effect, we feel, we hit all those notes quite well.
A lot of people have said when they start playing they just run round shooting, and it feels like a shooter. It does at first, but when you get into the game you start getting into situations were just shooting doesn't work. So you learn more about your powers and how you can manipulate the battlefield and command your squad.
It's hard to pin it down. We're having trouble saying 'It's an RPG' in good conscience. Our definition of RPG is very broad. At the very least it's quite action-oriented, but it's also quite story-driven.
Eurogamer: How would you describe the combat system? Which games did you take influences from?
Greg Zeschuk: The combat is broadly inspired. Clearly there's a cover system not dissimilar from Gears of War. It's lighter than Gears, you're not jumping and rolling from cover to cover, but cover is important.
The second thing is the squad. When you start the game your team-mates only have one power or two, but as you progress they acquire more and you need to work out strategies to defeat stronger enemies.
Eurogamer: What if you're not interested in the tactical bit? Can you just play the game like a shooter?
Greg Zeschuk: You could, but it would probably be very hard. If you were particularly adept and had just the right equipment... Maybe. The other thing is, your characters aren't dummies, and you can set them to do things to support you.
Eurogamer: How do you strike the balance between creating characters who are intelligent enough to provide effective support, but not so good at their jobs there's no point you being around?
Greg Zeschuk: Lots of practice. We've been doing these type of characters since back in the Baldur's Gate days... You know it when you get there. You play and you tweak and suddenly you're like, 'Hey, this character is doing what they're supposed to.'
Eurogamer: You're known for developing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. For Mass Effect, where you got the idea of doing a trilogy of games with an overarching storyline set in space? And when you've finished them, will you be doing a set of prequels which many misguided people think are rubbish?
Greg Zeschuk: Hopefully not the rubbish part [laughs]. When we started Mass Effect's development, we decided to do a big space epic, we went away and wrote the story, and we just felt it fitted better as instalments.
But a key thing for us is, we never want to make a game where the end of part one doesn't feel like the end. That's not to say we'll never have any kind of cliffhanger, but you've got to be satisfied with the ending.
As far as a prequel trilogy goes... We're just thinking about this next period right now. We're trying our best to make sure all of these games end up within this generation as well.