There's no getting around it: a lot of modern, graphically intense games look kinda same-y. At a glance, it can be hard to tell the difference. But show me a shot of the Mass Effect series and I'll instantly be like, "Yeah, that's Mass Effect." Why? A single shape that's everywhere.
Control500 spoke to series art director Derek Watts, and he explained that it's all in the arc. There are arcs all over the goddamn place in Mass Effect 1, 2, and 3. Ships, armour, weapons, rooms. Even some whole characters, if you trace a line through them, are giant arcs with legs and calibrations to do so, sorry, we'll talk later except, wait, oops they died, so I guess they actually meant never.
"When we were coming up with the idea for Mass Effect, we had just finished a Star Wars game [Knights of the Old Republic]. Star Wars has a very established look, very recognisable. We spend four years looking at it, involved in that IP. Mass Effect was a challenge. We were doing another science fiction franchise, we knew it was going to be three games. And we wanted it to have the depth that was needed to compete with Star Wars."
So they started studying various artists, and one, Syd Mead, stood out. His works had all these nice, gentle curves to them, and the future? Well, all reliable metrics indicate that the future is gonna be curvy as fuck, so it was a perfect match. Plus, the new consoles of the time were the first that could make curves look like, well, curves — not staircases that an elephant had sat in the middle of for far too long — so, once again, the stars aligned. Watts continued:
"We didn't really notice this until we had done a few of these characters and vehicles and levels. And we decided to start adding the arc to more of the concepts. We started to force ourselves to put this arc in there. It wasn't natural at the beginning, we had to fight it a little bit."
"We started using the arc everywhere. It was something we hadn't seen in a lot of other games. And the great thing about the arc is that you can add it to anything."
Ready for a plot twist? It's even IN THE GAME'S LOGO. DUN DUN DUN.
And yet, for all of BioWare's arc obsession, they didn't have any specific approach to the arc itself. It was like Guy Fieri and lethal doses of cheese; so long as it's there, everything's OK. Specific measurements were a secondary priority. Watts concluded:
"We had no mathematical formula for the arc. I wish there was. I wish I could talk into great detail how we researched the best curve. But the truth is there was no strict rule, no strict diagram or slope. It was just a long smooth circular arc."
It's fascinating stuff. Also, you will probably never look at Mass Effect the same way again. Sorry about that. Speaking of, anyone wanna play my new game, Mass Effect 3.5: Count All The Arcs In Every Scene Because Now I Can't Focus On Anything Else?
Thanks for the tip, Matthijs Dierckx.