Saturday, January 30, 2010

I'm Gonna Let You Finish...

But first I have to apologize for the horrible Kanye West reference. Sorry.

Anyway, I wanted to talk a bit about the conversation interrupts in Mass Effect 2.

I love these things. I think they are fantastic. They feel immediate, visceral, and allow the player to feel like they can have an impact on the conversation. They are not Quick Time Events because they are entirely optional. They irrovocably change the conversation, sometimes for the better or worse of the player. The presence of these is the main reason I want to replay ME2 at least a couple more times. Every time I activate one, or choose not to, I feel like I'm directing the conversation, even more than picking a dialog path.

For the unfamiliar, here's a short description. As you are in conversation (or during other scripted sections) an icon may appear at the bottom corner of the screen. Paragon interrupts appear on the left, Renegade on the right. Pull the matching trigger button (on the console, not sure what the matching action on the PC is) to interrupt. If you wait, then life will go on as before. Sometimes only one option is available, other times both are (though not always simultaneously). These pop up all over the place, and have a wide variety of effects. Bioware has used them generously and they feel like an essential part of many conversations.

For example, the first time you meet the Salarian scientist, Mordin Solus, he begins this wonderful, breathless tirade. There are two interrupts during that first line (which runs on for quite a while), one Renegade and one Paragon. Interrupting him gets you into the real conversation much faster. I think. I couldn't bring myself to do either. I wanted to hear the whole thing, uniterrupted. But I also want to see how that conversation changes. I know that it won't really change anything right there, but the writing (and voice acting) is so wonderful that hearing all the options will be fun.

And sometimes the interrupts have real effects. You can save people, or kill them. There are all sorts of real in-game consequences that come from your conversational choices, and the interrputs add another chance (and a more active way) to make these choices and have them mean something to the player. It also plays into the larger Paragon/Renegade game of the conversation system. Now you have extra options to do good or bad, but at the cost of changing the nature of the conversation or derailing other options.

Of all of the improvements made in ME2, this is my favourite.

* Fun fact: Bioware had played with this idea for the first Mass Effect, going so far as to show it off some in development videos. It never made it into the first game due to technical issues and not being able to get the feeling of it right. I'm glad they worked it out. They sure got it to feel right.

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