SDCC 2012: Building/Burning the Earth With The ‘Mass Effect’ Panel

It was a full stage during this panel looking at the past, present, and future of the Mass Effect franchise at SDCC. BioWare producer Mike Gamble was joined by senior combat designer Corey Gaspur, lead cinematic animator Parish Ley, writers Sylvia Feketekuty and Chris Helper, community manager Jessica Merizan, and community specialist Chris Priestly to lay out the the ongoing vision for the series.

“So, what an interesting three months it has been.” That’s how Mike Gamble led off the panel, talking about getting the Extended Cut out to audiences as well as the Earth DLC which is on the ay next week.

Gamble compared Visio charts for the original and Extended Cut’s respective levels of branching, showing how the EC blossomed in terms of variability for the story. Parish Ley added that much of it was in part a response to fan feedback.

Citing the difficulty of tracking all of the branching, Ley says that the game was monitoring the player’s readiness rate, their Paragon/Renegade status, and their decision involving the genophage.

He elaborated on the endings, saying that the intent with the Synthesis ending, for instance, they wanted to strike a note of truce in the days after detonation.

For the plot points months after your ending, they pulled from months after the the detonation, calling on the status of characters from Mass Effect 2 saves. This as also a chance to see the first Krogan baby depending on player decisions with the genophage.

He says that BioWare wanted to end on the “memorial sequence” to project some of the humanity in the finale, including the mo-cap reactions for the game’s cast.

Speaking of some of the fan disappointment with the ending, Jessica Merizan says that the same fans who defended BioWare during the Fox News faux scandal about Mass Effect were the same ones being vocal about their disappointment and they wanted to acknowledge and satisfy those players.

We also saw the “Earth” DLC trailer. This free DLC will include five new characters and three new weapons, including an energy sword.

Designer Corey Gaspur discussed working in all of the aims for a solid player experience including how Shepherd handles, and what it’s like to use him in combat. He says that going into 3, his team broke combat down into three pillars: “theme” which was drawn from the narrative ideas of the writing team; “fantasy fulfillment,” involving the “very cool things you can do as Shepherd”; finally, “character-driven gameplay,” which had a lot to do with the multiplayer.

Originally, in multiplayer, there was no plan to have a different feel when playing different species, but they said it didn’t feel right. But after seeing the cinematic where Shepherd frees a Krogan from cryostasis, they said that the way the character looked in those scenes–weighty, tough–was how they wanted this character to play. That meant stripping out features for that species like the ability to roll, while adding a fearsome combat roar.

The two writers on hand shared their experiences getting onto Mass Effect 3, Feketekuty saying that she got her start in the franchise as one of the three writers for the ME2 “Lair of the Shadow Broker” DLC, while Helper got his start writing Codex entries. Feketekuty says she also wrote “The Geth Consensus” level, which was an extended VR flashback sequence that originally started in an ancient Quarian temple.

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