Early in the game you reveal information that suggests an ancient race of machines was responsible for destroying galactic civilization roughly 50,000 years ago in a horrific cycle that resembles a "harvest" of organic life - and they're about to return! As the only person who's seen this evidence - and being one of the few in a position to do something about it - you begin scouring the galaxy to destroy the agents of the machines and prevent the cycle from happening again.
CVG: The scope and size of Mass Effect is immense. How did you approach creating such a huge and diverse galaxy and the sheer wealth of content in the game?
Hudson: It's a complex process, but it really started with one question: What would you most want to experience in a science-fiction adventure? That question led us back to our favourite moments in science-fiction movies, exciting experiences in our favourite games, breathtaking paintings from science-fiction book covers, even to music that inspires thoughts of dramatic space adventures. And this collection of exciting ideas and moments started to create a picture of the kind of universe that would support the biggest and most exciting science-fiction stories.
That led us to several key areas of innovation, including a much larger explorable galaxy with free-form gameplay, and digital actors that are compelling enough to deliver real emotion.
CVG: What would you say are the main innovations in the game? Which features are your favourite?
Hudson: Since we consider a powerful story to be a critical part of a BioWare game, a main focus of innovation on Mass Effect has been the development of advanced digital actors. We've developed complex systems for facial expressions, gestures, wrinkles, eye movements etc. that allow Mass Effect characters to react with tangible emotion. This makes your choices even more satisfying, since you can see that emotional reaction in their eyes.
To further enhance your interactions with in-game characters, we've created a dialog system that allows you to respond in real-time, with full voice on your player-created character. The interface uses consistent controller mappings that correspond to different "classes" of response, along with subtle timing and the use of brief paraphrases, so that you can make an educated decision with each response, while keeping the conversation running at a normal pace. In fact, you can even cut off another character in mid-sentence, and your choices aren't just about dialog - they can lead to physical actions as well, such as shoving another character or drawing your weapon.
We're also really excited to be able to innovate in the area of exploration. Whereas KOTOR gave players a small number of locations to travel to in the galaxy, Mass Effect allows you to explore planets, moons, and space derelicts across the Milky Way. Combined with a freeform approach to gameplay and a customisable combat vehicle that makes great use of physics, it really feels like you have a massive space to discover as you unfold the game's story.
CVG: How does creating a new sci-fi universe compare to working on the Star Wars properties like Knights of the Old Republic. How does Mass Effect differ from the Star Wars universe?
Hudson: Developing KOTOR was a great experience, but towards the end of the project our thoughts turned to all the things we'd love to do, if we were able to start from the beginning with a fresh new universe and a new approach to science-fiction. Therefore the Mass Effect universe, because it was really designed from first principles as a medium for interactive science-fiction, is quite unique while bearing the qualities that make a science-fiction experience deeply satisfying.