What was the main artistic inspiration for the Mass Effect franchise, which you've described as being "80's sci-fi"?
Derek Watts - Art Director:
For Mass Effect we definitely had a few artists that we looked at for inspiration: Syd Mead, John Berkey and John Harris were just a few. We wanted this universe to have a more sophisticated look. The design had to be clean with strong geometric shapes. The structures and clothing needed a purpose. We didn’t want it to feel clunky, dirty and heavy. We wanted this future to feel like someplace that still had hope.
I’m not sure I can really describe 80’s sci-fi. I’m very content with any kind of sci-fi as long as it looks good. I can put up with a poor script as long as the visuals are cool. I’m not a huge fan of low budget sci-fi; it's very painful for me to watch.
What were your main goals for the sequel?
Jaemus Wurzbach – Lead Character Artist:
We had a pretty good start with ME1. We had a new IP and we were using a new engine for the first time: Unreal3. There were a lot of growing pains, but by the end of ME1 we had learned a lot. One of the main things we learned in the character art team was how to make assets more efficiently, so that became a big focus. This encompasses how we create textures and meshes, as well as how we build our shaders. This helped to make our assets run a bit better in game, which helped out performance a lot.
Another key focus was in creating much higher quality art that was given an iconic look. In ME1, armors you would find in the game were all based off of a few meshes. We had a ton of texture variations, but everything pretty much looked the same. NPC's that you would fight against always looked like they were loners, wearing rag tag equipment. The characters really didn’t have a cohesive look to them. The same could be said for the members of your party. The player and the party members could be wearing the same outfits and this made it difficult, from a visual standpoint, to make them stand out from one another. At the same time, all characters from a specific race/species had to be able to share the same clothing and armor pieces. This really hampered us from making unique assets.
In ME2 we sought to change this. All of the party members were given an iconic look that helped define them. This allowed us to create very highly detailed unique work that carries a lot of personality with it. ME2 was loosely based off of the idea of “The Dirty Dozen” so the party members in ME2 were the primary focus for character art. We also made the NPC's you fight against in the game part of factions; mercenary teams and gangs had similar-colored suits and logos, which helped tie them into the world.