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Mass Effect 3: Inside BioWare Edmonton (Part 1)

Published 2 years, 5 months ago by Raphael Van Lierop

When Prima approached me with the opportunity to work with them on the strategy guide for Mass Effect 3, the chance to get my hands on the game early was impossible to resist. Beyond my response as a fan, I tried to imagine how I, as a professional game developer, would be suited to this task. The more we discussed the project, the more excited I became.

We wanted to do “something different” with this strategy guide. Prima had highly proficient strategy guide content experts to handle the walkthrough portion of the guide, but in order to deliver the kind of in-depth “behind-the-scenes” content that appeals to fans who desire a better understanding of the effort that goes into game creation, they needed someone who understood the creation process. Someone who had been on the inside; someone who could speak to the development team as ‘one of them’ and understand their terminology, their way of thinking, their culture.  They needed a game developer. *Raises Hand* My experience as a past Game Director qualified me.

It’s important to note: I’m the kind of fan who buys the special edition DVDs just to watch hours of director’s commentary and glean some sense of the craftsmanship that goes into the creation of some of my favorite films. I love the sense of getting the insider’s point of view on how things are made. The promise of being brought behind the curtain to see how the magic comes together is nearly impossible for me to resist.

For this project, I immediately thought of the best example of an insider’s view to a video game–Prima’s own Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar. For me, Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar was an in-depth chronicle of the development of Valve’s seminal shooter, and it was brilliant. This book was revelatory for a fan of the game, and those who know me know that I am one of its greatest fans. It presented a wealth of behind-the-scenes info about the creative process and development methodology employed by the team at Valve. What an exciting opportunity for me to do my small part in shining a light on some of the specific ideas, processes, and people that went into the creation of the incredible Mass Effect games.

Until more games incorporate director’s commentary in the game itself, the strategy guide tends to be just that for a game: a chance to learn, directly from the developers, some of the how’s and why’s behind our favorite games. When a strategy guide includes behind-the-scenes commentary, concept art, and production materials like script excerpts and planning documents, fans get a special view into the ‘black arts’ of video game development.

Taking on this project would give me the opportunity to play Mass Effect 3 months before the game would be available to the public. It would give me direct access to the minds at BioWare, one of the most talented game development studios in the world. It would let me interview the creators of one of my favorite game franchises, and delve into some of the development history of not only Mass Effect 3, but 8 years of Mass Effect games.

How could I resist? I signed the contract, grabbed my plane tickets, packed my bags, and grabbed my parka. Edmonton in December would have near-Arctic temperatures. I couldn’t wait to get there, and I wasn’t disappointed.

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