Last week, we journeyed to the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas, just a few miles from the madness of CES 2012, for an intimate closed-door demo of Mass Effect 3 and its Kinect functionality. In addition to writing up our ME3 preview, we managed to have a quick conversation with Aaryn Flynn, General Manager at BioWare Edmonton. We chatted about his first influential game (a VGW staple question), BioWare’s burgeoning female audience, Kinect, and even Keeper pets.
VGW: The first question we ask everyone: What was your first influential game? The title that made you want to get into the gaming industry?
Aaryn Flynn: Good question! I played Zork back in the day which was a really cool game to play — I had an Intellivision when I was growing up, so I played Armor Battle and Lock ‘N’ Chase – but I first played Zork on PC. [It] was amazing because the way they used words to paint this entire place that you’re in, I found so compelling. I had graph paper and I’d make my own maps. I think Zork was really that game that opened my mind to the possibility that ‘this is amazing, this is a real world you can build.’
VGW: The female game playing demographic seems to be drawn to Bioware games specifically. You guys are obviously aware of that (the FemShep campaign). Could you point to any certain thing that attracts a female audience to your games, be it Dragon Age, Mass Effect, etc?
AF: I think it goes back to our emphasis on story. The fact that we don’t try to create an action game that’s action for action’s sake. We try to put everything in context of the story. I think that appeals to a lot of different kinds of people; women are one aspect of that certainly. The story aspect is that differentiator that brings new people in to the kinds of games we make that otherwise wouldn’t play a similar game from a different developer.
VGW: Obviously you have women on your writing staff…
Oh absolutely! There are women all throughout our studio, and several are writers and editors. In fact we have a husband and wife team who are working on Mass Effect 3 together — Patrick Weekes’ a writer and Karen’s an editor, so yeah.
VGW: We know you’ve wanted to do multiplayer since the original Mass Effect. But since then, have any other games (outside of Gears of War and its Horde Mode) influenced the direction you took for the final iteration of multiplayer in Mass Effect 3?
AF: Gears is an obvious choice. Certainly then you see norms come out in the industry around the way multiplayer should work, and the expectations. We look at those and make sure we’re doing what a player would expect in the kind of format we’re presenting. We did talk to the Battlefield guys (DICE) while they were making Battlefield 3, and they had great advice for us.
VGW: With you guys implementing Kinect features into Mass Effect 3, did that process inspire you to look back at your other franchises or look forward to future titles with ideas for Kinect integration?
AF: Yeah, definitely. We want to get ME3 out there first and see the player feedback, and see what they like about it when they actually play it — for all aspects, Kinect included. But with that said, I’m really happy at seeing the response people are giving us after trying the Kinect stuff out there [press event]. I’m really excited that Kinect is going to be in the Xbox 360 demo, so if you’ve got a Kinect you can try these functions out. Really, once you try it, it becomes quite a fun way to experience Mass Effect 3. In terms of other games, we’ll see how the response is to this, then we’ll see what we can do with future titles.
VGW: I know you probably can’t speak on SWTOR (Star Wars: The Old Republic), but with Kinect officially coming to Windows…
AF: I’ll leave that one to the [BioWare] Austin guys, but I mean with all the story content they have, being able to read it, and control your follower… that would be a pretty amazing thing.
VGW: Can you talk about the dynamics of Cerberus vs. the Reapers…in ME3 specifically. The Illusive Man has virtually unlimited strength, and we’re wondering if those dynamics could affect Shepard’s interactions at all? [Aaryn looks to our PR rep, who casts sort of a "don't say too much!" glance in his direction]
AF: Well, here’s what I will say! My answer to that would be…that’s a very interesting question. There is some very interesting information, and evolution of that relationship very early in Mass Effect 3.
VGW: That’s a tasty answer! (laughter) So last question: A lot of our readers want a Keeper pet on the Normandy…
AF: Oh, very interesting! A Keeper pet huh? (laughs) Good, good, a Keeper pet. Good to know! Hopefully we’ll have more to talk about in the coming weeks! [Author's note: Aaryn's inflection here all but gives away that an announcement regarding this very thing may be incoming]
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We’d like to thank Edelman PR, EA, and Bioware for giving us this opportunity to briefly speak to Aaryn Flynn before our demo. Look for our full impressions of the Kinect functionality and more on January 18th.