Mass Effect 2 is one of the most widely praised games of 2010, not just for its gameplay but also for its amazing cinematics. Armando Troisi, the lead cinematic designer for Bioware, explained to the audience at the Game Design Expo in Vancouver how.
Troisi said the agenda of any cinematic designer starts with the story perspective. There’s also a tacit “agreement” between the player and the designer to guide the player through the game experience. Added to the mix is “quicktime events” which are essentially movies with bits of interactivity dropped in.
Bioware’s pillars of design, Troisi said, are story, exploration, progression and game play. These are the building blocks of a modern role playing game (RPG). Cinematics are a narrative tool, as well as a system that draws from many different disciplines, and a design philosophy. What makes the game medium unique, Troisi said, is the concept of choice.
The traditional role playing model is a subjective story, since you se the world through the eyes of your character (who you control). This allows you to quickly empathize with your avatar. But there are problems with this model, two being the enormous amount of dialogue needed to support gameplay and the fact that everyone but the player does all the talking.
Bioware changes this model to control the character during movement, but pulling back for dialogue, allowing the main character to speak and interact during cinematics and when talking to characters in dialogue trees.
They also allow a bit of autonomy into its characters, so the main character will sometimes act on his own, which can be a dicey proposition. Generally the player influences the player character, but their approach was to have the player influence the scene instead, with the character acting within that. Bioware uses its dialogue interface to map the players reaction and are then able to add subtext to the game. The predictability of the interface influences the narrative.
Troisi said you also have to give the players the choices they want. He pointed out a clip of an interrogation scene where the player is given the choice to hit the detainee. Troisi said they would have received hate mail if they hadn’t given the player the option to do so.
Troisi’s final point was that it’s the player’s story. The player makes the story, and the writer gives the player the tools to create that story. To that end, Mass Effect 2 allowed players to upload their previous story from Mass Effect 1 into Mass Effect 2, in order to continue your own story.