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Make it a (Virtual) Reality: Mass Effect

You stare out at the galaxy. Hundreds of planets are strung out for as far as you can see. Each one presents a whole new landscape, atmosphere, civilisation and culture to become immersed in. You think over your next destination as the sound of consoles clicking and virtual keyboards tapping surrounds you. Members of your squad brush shoulders with you as they head to the armoury. The cockpit and pilot rest at the end of the corridor in front of you. This is your ship to command and your galaxy to explore.

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The Mass Effect franchise is undoubtedly one of the richest, most detailed universes in the entire videogame industry. Over the past decade BioWare has led fans on a remarkable journey spanning three separate videogames in which player’s choices all tied together. This week trilogy director Casey Hudson, who left BioWare earlier in 2014, teased that his next project would involve the Oculus Rift virtual reality (VR) head-mounted display (HMD) to some degree. With that in mind, this week’s ‘Make it a (Virtual) Reality’ is taking a look at where Hudson’s past work could go with VR.

As already stated, the Mass Effect universe is as immersive as videogames come. As Commander Shepherd, players tour galaxies meeting alien races and waging war against evil forces. Story and strategic gameplay are at the heart of the series, and VR could play a big part in enhancing both.

Players are accompanied on each mission by a squad of two companions that form an even larger family of warriors to choose between. Imagine being able to interact with those squad members on a much more personal level than before, actually making eye contact with them as you speak to them, believing that they’re really next to you as you stand shoulder-to-shoulder in combat, and issuing orders that are carried out right in front of you. Traditionally players bond with their squad in between missions. In VR this concept could be taken further, carrying out other activities as you talk to them. How about playing a game of chess with Garrus as you discuss tactics for the next mission? Or repairing equipment with Wrex as you learn his past?

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Then there’s the combat itself, in which players take part in firefights with their own set of unique abilities. Using the Oculus Rift or Project Morpheus’ head-tracking capabilities to use these powers independently of where players are aiming their gun could create combat previously unseen not just within the franchise but in all of videogames. Imagine providing cover fire for your squad on the right and using a Pull power to uproot enemies on the left.

But above all, the Mass Effect universe is one that VR fans could simply get lost in. Each planet has its own fascinating personality to explore with diverse landscapes and impossible scenery. Traditionally players only see a splinter of these environments within each game, but being set loose to explore them in great detail would be one of the most convincing and immersive experiences yet seen with the technology.

Mass Effect represents the full package for VR. Becoming immersed in the world, growing relationships with characters, and experiencing convincing combat are three of the most requested features for the technology. Hudson might have parted ways with BioWare, but hopefully future entries in the franchise will embrace the technology.