With Mass Effect 3’s release only a couple months away, BioWare held a private hands-on demonstration of the game’s Kinect support during the Consumer Electronics Show.
Mass Effect 3 uses the Kinect to allow players to interact with the game through vocal commands. This neatly avoids the potential difficulty of adapting a conventional third-person shooter to a format more suitable to the Kinect, while still capitalizing on the Kinect’s hardware. Players can issue commands to main character Commander Shepard or allied characters in combat sequences, interact with the environment, or select dialogue options by voice.
Mass Effect 3 for the Xbox 360 will support voice command in English (British, American, and Australian), French, Italian and German.
A trailer for Mass Effect 3‘s Kinect support has been released.
I’ve made my disdain for motion controls clear on several occasions, so the announcement that it’s primarily a voice-control mechanism for Mass Effect 3 actually cheered me. I’d been half afraid that Microsoft would have encouraged Bioware to try and shoehorn in some awkward motion-control mechanism, and the last thing I need when playing Commander Shepard, Hero of the Citadel and all around Awesome Person is a game of charades with a computer.
Voice control, though, that presents a few more possibilities.
In combat, the Kinect’s voice control can be quite the asset. It’s most helpful when you can use it to sidestep the ability ring, like switching weapons or issuing attack or special abilities orders. It’s somewhat unfortunate that you can’t combine the voice commands with pausing via the ability ring, since it makes planning in combat slightly more difficult. While you can also use Kinect voice control to interact with the environment (say, examining an object) this isn’t quite so necessary since you’re usually not doing so in a crisis anyways.
There wasn’t a chance to demo the voice control in a dialogue sequence, but I’ve no doubt it works well enough – the voice sensor is generally fairly accurate and once you’ve gotten the hang of speaking clearly and firmly your commands will go through the majority of the time. The bigger issue with voice control in dialogue scenes is simply one of immersion; Shepard isn’t you, so trying to step into their shoes to that extent is a little awkward.
(Imagine how awkward any of the romance scenes or plotlines would be!)
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by the voice control. It’s not a replacement for normal control, but it may help to streamline play a bit.
Some Questions for Aaryn Flynn
While at the Mass Effect 3 Kinect event, I had the chance to ask Aaryn Flynn, General Manager of Bioware’s Edmonton studios, a few questions on topics some fans have been asking about Mass Effect 3‘s production.
Trauben: “So what sort of challenges did integrating the Kinect into Mass Effect 3 pose? It’s not the sort of game people normally associate with the Kinect.
Flynn: “No, I guess not. I mean, the fact that it is strictly a voice control thing and it’s a core game as opposed to a family game…There were some technical challenges, but we worked closely with Microsoft on it. We’ve been working on it for about nine months now, adding some commands, refining it…there were all sorts of technical challenges, getting the vocabulary right. It’s launching in English, French, Italian, German and Spanish, so we had to make sure those all worked properly.”
Trauben: “Some fans have claimed that having to incorporate things like the Kinect and multiplayer have delayed the launch significantly. What do you think about that?”
Flynn: “I don’t think there was any one thing that delayed the launch, except our commitment to quality. Certainly it’s a very ambitious game, and so on balance we try to do all that stuff and if we want to do it well, it’s going to take more time.”
Trauben: “A lot of fans generally feel that BioWare games are more interesting when the protagonist is female.”
Flynn: “We know there’s many people who feel that way and enjoy playing female characters because of that reason.”
Trauben: “What I always wondered was” in most cases – and even in very supported examples for female characters – the marketing material is always using a male character. Do you know why the choice was made to keep using a male Shepard as the front of Mass Effect 3?”
Flynn: “Just consistency. We wanted to keep using the iconic Male Shepard and didn’t have an iconic female Shepard at the time – just a bit too disruptive for the overall campaign and awareness. That’s why we had the FemShep campaign – we are very proud of the diversity in the game and the inclusivity, and we’ve worked very hard to maintain a robust experience for those who want to play a female character. That choice matters, and it makes a difference.”
Trauben: “A lot of controversy has come up about the inclusion of multiplayer in Mass Effect 3. There have been accusations by some fans and some communities that it’s basically ‘Play multiplayer, or you have to work twice as hard in single-player.’ What do you have to say about that?”
Flynn: “Well, it’s certainly not as stark as that. The idea for multiplayer was really one of letting players play the game in a new way, one we’ve been interested in letting players play for a while now. We wanted to explore it since Mass Effect 1, and we finally have the time and technology and the experience to give it a try. That said, it’s entirely optional; you don’t have to play it, and all the amazing content of Mass Effect 3 is there as people expect even if you don’t want to play multiplayer. I enjoy playing multiplayer, we [the team] all enjoy playing multiplayer, and that’s really all it’s there for, something for people to enjoy. If they want to stick to the single-player campaign, everything they expect is there.”
Trauben: “Is it easier to develop for the third game than it was for the second game, given that you have a guaranteed continuity with the previous titles?”
Flynn: “I don’t think it comes up too much for us. Mostly it’s a technology thing – it’s less of a story thing. The story thing is interesting – it’s just more just a fun thing [to reference past game achievements.] We don’t want to punish people who haven’t played Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2; we want Mass Effect 3 to be something people can pick up and enjoy.”
Trauben: “So by the same token, do a lot of the decisions from the second game make a big manifestation in the third game, or does the third game dance around them in the same way the second did – for example, the second game kind of danced around the whole Council issue – you might have saved them and that’s great, but you never actually see them?”
Flynn: “I’d love to answer, but until we get closer to launch, I don’t wanna get into too many specifics.”
Trauben: “A lot of fans claim that Mass Effect is somehow less of an RPG for not being a turn-based, number-crunching exercise – that because it’s an effective shooter, because it works as a game with shooter elements, it’s somehow not an RPG.”
Flynn: “Well, I disagree. I don’t think that Mass Effect 3 is any less of an RPG because it doesn’t require a spreadsheet or a calculator. I think it’s a fantastic RPG; I’m playing it and loving it and I’ve been enjoying all the stuff we’ve done – the weapon customization and the stat stuff we’ve done is incredible – the ability to have a full skill tree and decide exactly where things are going to go and all the different ways to level up the characters. It’s a blast to play it that way – it gives you a lot of choice. I think it’s a very good RPG. It’s got great action it in, and a lot of other things as well.”
Trauben: “Thank you very much.”