BioWare: How We Can Improve The Side Quests For ‘Mass Effect 2′

Did you think that “Mass Effect“’s side quests could be better? If so, then the guys who run BioWare agree that there is room for improvement.

They told me so at GDC.

I care, because I’ve been to a lot of those side-quest planets in “Mass Effect.” In fact, I believe I’ve been to all of them. So I have my own feelings about what worked and what didn’t. I wanted to get the official developers’ take.

Here’s my chat with BioWare general manager Greg Zeschuk on the topic:

Multiplayer: I played through the end of “Mass Effect.” I had a good time with it. I actually liked exploring a lot of the planets. But what do you make of the people who have said they really enjoy the critical path much more than the side quests? Have you learned any aspects about how to improve upon that aspect of game development, which seems to me to be necessarily always going to be secondary — because they are the side quests? How do you improve that area of game development?

Greg Zeschuk, General Manager, BioWare: “Mass Effect” was specifically designed so there was kind of a straight shot of really intense story down the middle. And then, on the sides, we almost had supporting casts — and those were the planets you could explore. And that was really purposeful. That was to give the player a lot of variety in what you could do and give the player a user-driven, sort of personally customized choice as to how you could play the game.

One of the things we’re looking at for sequels and some of our other games is better technical ways, smarter ways to auto-generate content, to create stuff that seems richer to the player. Another thing we’re looking at — again not specific to one game, but just generally — is a way of tying those additional moments back into the story: whether it’s having to gather certain things for those other planets, kind of making them more central to the story but making sure that they’re still the supporting cast. [We want to be sure] that there’s something really purposeful about them.

I think with “Mass” we just wanted to say, “Let’s make a whole bunch of planets for people to explore.” They all encapsulated, amongst themselves, some fun stories to do. Some kind of spanned among each other. But [next] we’re taking it to that next level of tying them into the central story as well.

Multiplayer: Is it partially a methodology thing? I don’t know if this is something a lot of developers wind up confronting, but do side quests wind up being the last thing you get to or something you’re not able to staff as much as you’d want to, because they’re not as important as the main part of the game?

Zeschuk: Side quests can sometimes be left on the side, so to speak. Pardon the pun. But a lot of times it’s even just getting that whole game done, that first shot [that is important]. We look at “Mass Effect 2” as incredibly exciting. Just the amount of effort and knowledge and know-how that went into building the technology for the first one is huge, and [we now have] the chance to actually make things a little bit richer.

We look into BioWare’s history and we’re really aiming for what happened with “Baldur’s Gate II” compared to what happened with “Baldur’s Gate” one. “Baldur’s Gate” one — extremely solid game, huge impact on the industry. But with “Baldur’s Gate II” we just took it to a whole new level. And I think that’s what we’re excited about with “Mass.”


“Mass Effect” fans, do you like what you’ve read here? What do you think about side quests and how BioWare or any other developers should handle them?