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Interviews

GC: BioWare's Ray Muzyka

Interview: Co-CEO talks Shenmue, Heavy Rain and Mass Effect

As the CEO of BioWare, one of the world's top-tier developers, Ray Muzyka knows his games. We caught up with him at last week's Gamescom show in Germany for a lengthy interview about the developer's on-going projects including, of course, Mass Effect 2.

Look out for part two of our Muzyka interview on Monday.

First up, we must say that Mass Effect 2 is looking fantastic.

Muzyka: Yeah, Mass Effect 2 is a really refined evolution of the Mass Effect experience. We've took a lot of feedback from gamers and the press, and internally. I think it's just an awesome game, when you play it feels real tight and tense.

Zoom

It focuses on deep character development but how do you get players to really care about polygonal characters?

Muzyka: That's a really good question. I think one of our visions is to really create an emotional engagement with the game and that can be done in a variety of ways.

One of them is through characters and story, to get you to make choices that matter and to have characters that feel like real, living characters - digital personas that you actually care about.

With Dragon Age it's a little bit different, but with Mass Effect's Sheppard, it's almost like a third-person authored experience because you're given general directive orders and then you see Sheppard enact it, and that's almost a game in itself - seeing what he's going to do. Be he has a strong personality and it grows on you so you really care about him doing the right things.

But the small things matter. You have to have digital actors that are credible and believable. The small things like the characters' eyes - whether they look right, where they look and if they blink at the right frequency, whether the light reflects off their eyes in the right way, whether their hand movement is right.

In real life you don't even need to speak - you can convey as much by nodding your head or lifting your eyebrow, and that's the same thing that a high-fidelity character can bring. It's with this motional expression that, if you can make players believe in your characters, the possibilities are endless.

Heavy Rain is similar in many ways to Mass Effect in that it focuses on character development, choice-making and open-ended conclusions. What do you think of Quantic Dreams' work?

Muzyka: It sounds really cool. I haven't seen it at the show here yet, I've only read about it online. I don't know enough to comment in detail as I probably should, but I heard they have some broad goals around emotion in games and how that's an important part of their vision and I share that.

Zoom

Games like Heavy Rain and - going back a bit, Shenmue - take away much of the action and play like interactive stories. Not everyone responds well to this. Do you think these games work?

Muzyka: I was a big fan of Shenmue. But in my opinion I don't think people play games for the mundane. They play them for aspiration.

Our games are more about the heroic journey, or the anti-heroic journey, depending on the character you're playing. They're less about the mundane activities. I think if we make RPGs we always will pursue the heroic or escapist aspect in gameplay.

It could be anything, like a sports RPG. Arguably a lot of sports games nowadays are emerging with RPG elements anyway, with stats and progression and taking on the lifestyles of the sportsmen. Is GTA an RPG?

None of them are mundane, they're all heroic in different ways. They all escape from the every day. And that's kind of why you play games - because you want to be part of something special. I think that's what players want, to do something that you can't do in the every day, because if you can do it in the every day you would do it.

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