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By the beginning of 2010, more than four years have elapsed since the Xbox 360's release. At this point, several developers have put out sequels to games originally released for the system, and others are deep into the process of working on them. This week, BioWare ships its first current generation sequel, as it is set to release Mass Effect 2, a little over two years after the original game, which shipped in late 2007.
Here, lead producer Adrien Cho, who was lead technical artist on the first game, talks about the process of learning from the original game in the series. The BioWare team took journalist and fan feedback, compiled it all, and made leads responsible for addressing it in the game. He also talks about how laying the foundation of the original title enabled growth and refinement for the developers' ideas as they launched into the sequel.
One aspect that BioWare and EA have been touting for the sequel is that the game plays more like a shooter, while still retaining the developer's stock-and-trade of strong RPG gameplay and intricate story mechanics.
Cho discusses this evolution, and the thinking behind boosting that aspect of the game -- and why the rise of the shooter and its meld with the RPG is an increasingly common occurrence.
What is your background? Technical art is an interesting space. You're like a go-between; you have to understand both the worlds that you're working in.
Adrien Cho: My friend Sally Hwang... was a technical artist, too. It's nice meeting other technical artists because you feel like you're in this weird, isolated group of developers.
I used to teach. My students had a lot of conflict, because when they went into the work force, they always wanted this perfect job description that says, "Hey, this is what you do." And I said, "Well, if you wanted that, you should have just went to plumbing school, because then it's really clear." Like, "I went to plumbing school, and then I applied for plumbing job." In any creative job, you really have to start looking at your skill set and say, "Can I do that job? I want to do that job. What am I missing?"
So, I was at work. I was an engineer. So, I think that covers the technical aspects of it. When I graduated from high school, it just seemed like a logical career to take. I went through mechanical engineering, and I did that for two years afterwards, designing down-hole drilling equipment. Up in Canada, it's all about the oil. I felt bad after a while, extracting valuable resources from the Earth. It's just something I wasn't really happy with.
At the same time, I also turned away [from] the creative side. As a kid, I was an artist. My old art teacher basically said, "Becoming an artist is really hard. You're in it for a destitute life and poorness and so on." I was like, "Well, I don't want to do that." [laughs]
But at a certain point, you start realizing, "Well, I want to do something that I want to do." So I went back and did a masters in industrial design. And then somehow, when I graduated from that [laughs], I ended up at BioWare.
And the great thing about BioWare is... I mean, Ray and Greg, of course, come from a field other than games. And I think that type of attitude was really cool, because they're open to the idea of, "Hey, you have a really cool skill set," or "The way you think is really important, and I think it would be a good match for this position." That's how I ended up in technical art.
So, it's that marriage between the design side, with the creative side and understanding all the important aspects that artists feel are important, you know, making things look good. The technical side was balanced off by the engineering side of "How can we make this process efficient? How can we make things fit on a 360 and run properly?"
How did you move into production on this project, then? Because that's a little bit of a jump, too.
AC: So, the other side was that a technical artist actually has to have very good interpersonal skills. Because you have to work with different groups, often not just the artists, but programmers and design. And so transitioning into production was actually a natural evolution of that -- was that I worked well with others. Most importantly, I still protect my artists, because I have a really huge respect for what they do.
But it's to be able to communicate that to other groups to let them know the role that they have and what they bring to the game. And so it was a bit of this liaison for technical artists, and production's the same way. It's really just clearing things up, having a high-level view of the battlefield, looking at the available resources that you have. How can you get the most amazing work out of the people that you work with? And then freeing up all the problems ahead.
Technical artists actually do a lot of firefighting, and they forecast and say, "Hey, that fire might not be a problem now, but it might be in a few days or a few weeks." The same thing with production -- there are a lot of similarities.
The [Mass Effect]... I think it was a technical feat, but it wasn't without its flaws. At a certain stage, with the sequel, when we felt that we resolved a lot of those things. Production was actually an area we really needed to tighten up on, so to speak. I always say "tighten up" because I remember that stupid video, like "tighten up the graphics on level three." [laughs]
Once we felt that we had a really good technological base and the pipeline was solid, production offered a lot more influence on change. And I think it was limited in the technical art role. From production, again, all of a sudden, the expanse of your influence grows... I'm still looking out for art, but in the role of production, I can actually help them out a lot more.