As Mass Effect's latest iOS tie-in infiltrates the App Store, we sat down with Jarrad Trudgen, the game's lead designer over at IronMonkey Studios, to talk lessons from Dead Space, interaction with BioWare, and getting connected to the console game.
Pocket Gamer: What's the storyline in Mass Effect Infiltrator, and how does it tie in to Mass Effect 3's narrative?
Jarrad Trudgen: As Commander Shepard wages galactic war against the Reapers, veteran soldier Randall Ezno is stationed as a Cerberus Infiltrator on an isolated research facility. He is among the first to volunteer for an experimental program that augments soldiers with powerful weaponry and biotic abilities developed from advanced Reaper technology.
Randall has little trouble reconciling himself with the fact that his formidable enhancements are born of invasive experimentation on captive alien test subjects. However, when Cerberus's malfeasance treads a little closer to home, Randall swears vengeance and turns his unique talents towards escaping the base and taking Cerberus down.
How much interaction have you had with Mass Effect series creator BioWare during the development of the game?
Particularly during pre-production, we worked closely to establish the high-level goals for Infiltrator with BioWare executive producer Casey Hudson and lead writer Mac Walters.
Primarily, these discussions nailed down what features to focus on, the setting, main characters, broad stroke narrative, and where we fit into the larger story. Those guys have the best view of the broader Mass Effect universe, and are very passionate and hands-on about the franchise.
Once we agreed on the key design pillars of Infiltrator, BioWare handed us the reins for the bulk of production and content creation. We'd provide our latest draft of the script and fairly regular builds for feedback, but we handled everything from character concepts and asset creation to VO recording completely in-house.
Playing the iOS game gives you some reward in the 360 / PS3 edition, right? What do players get, and how does that work?
Players gather intel on Cerberus's experimental research throughout the iOS game and can choose to upload this to the Alliance to help Shepard in his battles with the Reapers if they desire.
Alternatively, they can trade the intel for credits to further enhance Randall's weapons, biotics, cloaking, and melee abilities.
What did you learn while making Dead Space iOS, and how has that affected Mass Effect Infiltrator's development?
The entire core team from Dead Space was involved in developing Infiltrator, so all of that expertise was carried over.
As both titles are third-person shooters, there are countless small lessons about similar features that help out a lot: knowing what field of views work best on different devices, the number of pixels a swipe movement should take to register, etc.
Being able to watch people play and react to Dead Space also helped inform our refinements to Infiltrator's controls. I observed some players struggling with fine aiming in Dead Space, so we introduced a tap-to-zoom soft lock system with a dedicated fine-tuning aim mechanic into Infiltrator. It's still a skill-based system, but it's more conducive to chaining headshots and making players feel badass. After all, they should be concentrating on fighting Cerberus, not the controls.
Significantly, our engine technology has evolved from what we used in Dead Space and our other iOS titles. In this iteration, we have added post-processing and an advanced material system, giving our artists much more freedom to create variety and bigger, more open, and more detailed environments. We are constantly looking to improve the feature set of the engine, and have always tried to push each device to its limits.
It's billed as a third-person shooter, but does it have any of the RPG elements we'd be familiar with from the console Mass Effect games?
Very early on in development, we decided with BioWare to focus purely on the action and combat mechanics of Mass Effect in Infiltrator.
We still have a strong fully voice-acted narrative (Jay Franke, the voice of JC Denton in the original Deus Ex games plays our protagonist), but we made a conscious decision to eschew a dialogue system to focus purely on combat.
We felt that was a much better angle to pursue given the short burst play inherent to the platform. We do support quite a bit of character customisation, though. Due to Randall's Reaper tech enhancements, he enjoys the freedom to use a wide variety of weapons and biotics.
In lieu of a full squad to command, players have the freedom to mould Randall into the type of build they prefer - whether that's weighted in favour of weapons, biotics, stealth, or even melee.
Are there any plans for an Android release?
I'm pleased to announce that an Android build is already in progress.