Dragon Age: Origins
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BioWare's main man talks about the origins and awakenings of Dragon Age...
- 1 - Awakening Origins
It was a pretty long project. We started as a PC lead, but we always had a hope of bringing it to consoles as well, which became a concerted effort later on. I think we talked at one point about doing a Human Commoner origin story, which wasn't in the shipped game, but it wasn't as aspirational or interesting. But you know, dwarf noble, dwarf commoner, those were exotic. The Dalish and the city elf were intriguing too, plus the mage and the human noble, which were the six we shipped with. We wanted to make sure you took on a role that was aspirational and exciting, ultimately something that players would want to get behind. If we think of anything else though, well put it in the next release.
- 2 - Party Time
One time I had three mages in my party. I had Wynne, Morrigan and my main character was a mage too, with Leliana in front, a dual-wielding, back-stabbing thief who could open chests, of course. I had all three mages progressed along the spell chain to get Animate Dead, so I actually ended up with seven characters in the party, including the corpses. If Leliana was a ranger, she could have summoned a pet and I'd have had eight. Anyway, it worked really well with seven. Did you know that when you cast Animate Dead on a corpse, the thing that gets animated varies according to what they were before? So, if you had a Hurloc Emissary, you'd get a mage, or if you cast it on a ranged guy, like an archer, you'd get them in your party. So you can actually have six mages in your party, which I did a few times, which was really cool.
- 3 - Plumbing The Depths
There's a lot of depth to the game if you poke around in it a lot of interesting nooks and crannies. If you've already progressed a lot with your characters, you might be able to unlock some new abilities later on when Awakening raises the level cap. We wanted to have summonable characters to raise the group size above four, but as for a greater base group size, we looked at it and thought from a performance and playability benefit balance, four was the best number. We considered six and we did some prototyping around three, four and six and decided four was a nice middle ground, so we chose that. We felt there was a nice tactical depth there, so you could have a couple of fighters, a mage and a thief, or a couple of thieves, a fighter and a mage or three mages and a thief, which is what I did. It gave it enough tactical depth and diversity. I think that's really cool, as you get the water cooler moment where you go ''Well, my party was composed of this," and your friends would go, "Oh, I didn't even think of that".
- 4 - Scaled Up
I gotta tell you, fighting a dragon is one of the coolest moments in the game, very epic. They're freaking huge and on the PC, I remember I was fighting some dragons and I was so excited, taking all these screenshots of Sten rushing up to the dragon with his flaming sword, and the dragon rearing over his head.
Wynne was at the back basically trying to heal and animate them back to life whenever they dropped. I took all these screenshots and sent them over to Frank, my boss, and John, my boss's boss, and I was like "Look at this, this is freaking awesome, I'm fighting dragons". Epic stuff, I was really excited by it.
- 5 - Fantasy Life
Dungeons & Dragons and Tolkien, they're high fantasy: it's all good and evil, one or the other. There's elves and they're good, but we wanted elves that were downtrodden, a grittier, more mature take on fantasy. Not like a dark or low fantasy, but somewhere in the middle, taking the best features of high and low fantasy, which we call dark heroic fantasy. We feel it was a fresh take on things. It looks familiar on the surface, but when you dive into it you realise there are a lot of things going on that aren't necessarily obvious. I think The Witcher was more an example of low fantasy. It's on the other end of the spectrum to the high fantasy. It's good, there's a lot of different types of fantasy you can create. I like the middle, where there's a dark, mature world where your choices have consequences, but you can still be a hero.
- 6 - Rules And Regs
We wanted to build our own rule system that was designed first and foremost as a computer RPG system, not a pen-and-paper game system that had been brought to the computer, which is what we did with D&D successfully with Baldur's Gate and y Neverwinter Nights. We thought, let's try something new and build a videogame system that's designed as that first. We actually brought it back to pen-and-paper gaming, doing a version of Dragon Age in that medium, which was kinda cool. I haven't played it yet, but I looked at the rule book, which is really interesting.
- 7 - Risque Business
We're not trying to be gratuitous with the sex scenes. We're trying to get an emotional response, for you to feel affection and believe the characters in your party are real, to feel genuine emotion for them. There wasn't as much of a reaction to the scenes in Dragon Age, certainly compared to Mass Effect where Fox aired a scene on national TV.
In most of our games we've enabled choice, so however you want to play the game, if you're a male and want a female romance interest, or if you want a male romance interest, we've enabled that. We're not saying one choice is better than the other, it's a role-playing game and, as in real life, you can make choices.
There's a little controversy when people say this is different, but we point out we've done this in every game since Baldur's Gate, and they realise the scenes aren't gratuitous. Other than that, there wasn't a controversy. Fox was embarrassed by their story coverage, how they ran a story about it with someone admitting they'd never played the game and was still critiquing it and... well, not good.
- 8 - Toughening Up
In a game as vast as Dragon Age, there are a lot of different ways to play through it. Difficult sections might just be tough because of your current party setup. We had and have a huge Q&A team with a test plan that encompasses the style, but when you put it in the hands of millions of consumers, they're going to find different ways to play it, some of which might not be compatible with the balancing. What I'd encourage them to do is try different party members. When you get stuck or blocked, it might just be a clue that maybe you're not ready to go through that passage yet, that you need to go back out into the wide world and gain a few levels, find some more equipment, buy some more potions and then try it again. If you're running through a barrier and you're dying, that might be a higher level encounter meant for a higher level party. Typically, after the origin stories, there's nothing that you have to do to advance, there's always more content, more quests or experience that you can gain somewhere.
Download Dragon Age: Origins
Bioware RPGs Have a lot in common with marriage: they require a commitment of a vast amount of energy and time, and it's little things that make the difference.
Just like rinsing plates before putting them in the dishwasher and buying milk on your way home helps prevent bitter divorces, it's the yellow, rotten teeth in dirt-encrusted NPCs, senile knights and urinating dogs that turn Ferelden into a living world. More so than the realistic social structures, political intrigue and a detailed pseudo-Christian religion.
These almost insignificant touches make up for the game's legion of weaknesses. As with all BioWare games, Dragon Age needed script editors to force the writers to par down the immense amount of dialogue. Then there's the mute and emotionless protagonist. After Mass Effect's cinematic PC and NPC interaction, having Dragon Age's hero Gordon Freeman his way through things is depressing.
But more serious are the gameplay and technical issues. There are the minor flaws-such as not being able to store unwanted equipment for later - use it, destroy it, or sell it - and an inventory that thinks a suit of armour takes up the same space as a pair of silk gloves. Sadly, the biggest flaw is with the combat: it isn't just tough, it can be murderously unbalanced. Some foes (such as wolf packs) can wipe out your team in under a minute, which makes the seconds-long delay between combat initiating and you being allowed to issue commands an often lethal delay.
Add characters who ignore your commands and enemies; opponents that seem to teleport to outflank you; the inability to alter your party's formation outside of combat; mages' pitiful range of spells; enemies who can't be stopped by filling doorways with armoured warriors; arrows that go round corners to hit you, and melee attacks that inflict damage, even if you run 10ft away before the blow actually lands; and a party limit of just four characters.
This makes Dragon Age's suspect support for multi-core CPUs, which can cause the game to repeatedly quit without warning, just insulting. BioWare deserve the praise they're getting for the rich world they created in Dragon Age and the truly epic story you take part in, but it's just a disgrace they didn't put as much effort into the actual gameplay.
As Far As excellent RPG franchises go, BioWare's lineage makes other companies wilt iftiAjntended lilies. Baldur's Gate redefined RPGs, its sequel defied expectations by being even better, and Mass Effect and Knights of the Old Republic both won our coveted Classic award, while Jade Empire came within a hair's breadth of gold. So when it conies to making new, playable, engrossing RPGs, there's nobody to match BioWare's track record, and that's why you should be excited for Dragon Age: Origins.
BioWare's new RPG puts you in the shoes of a Grey Warden, one of a bunch of knightly types fighting against a newly-formed horde of evil. The Blight, as they're known, are an army of Darkspawn (mages gone bad) led by the Old God they've awoken - a gigantic dragon that lives beneath the Earth. Hence the title, I suppose.
What's evident with BioWare is that, while they're deviating from their former licences by creating their own, they've learned to take the best elements and adapt them for the new series. Dragon Age, while sporting a KOTOR-meets-Baldur's Gate attack queue system, can be played in its entirety from either a classic isometric .view or a third-person mode. You can dteo .pause the combat and select "movements for your players and, as you'd expect, the dialogue trees will pjrataa resemblance to Mass Effects. You'll no doubt have the same level of moral freedom, too, with the ability to use soldiers as useful allies or as walking meat shields, depending on how friendly or destructive you're feeling.
Dragon Age is going for a slight twist on a genre, with a darker-toned fantasy environment (enough to make the BBFC sweat) rather than the relative glitz of Icewind Dale and Neverwinter Nights. Characters get drenched with blood, both when they get injured and when they inevitably chop through their enemies. Even the ogre, a common fantasy staple, is a lot darker, looking like the lovechild of the LOTRO's Trolls and Horny out of Dungeon Keeper. They're even more vicious, too - as you fight them they'll grab your party members, beating them with one gigantic fist as you desperately try to free your friends.
A new feature in combat is the effect of surfaces and elements on your movement For example, a fire trap can cover an entire area in flames, but with an ice spell you can traverse the path with ease. This hopefully means that your party - which from what we've seen can include up to four people - will have to be reasonably balanced to deal with the threat of The Blight. So expect a tighter version of Baldiir's Gate 7's battles, in which the focus is on tactics to bring down bigger enemies. This is where pausing the combat helps a great deal and where the more patient gamer will succeed.
Knights of the Old Republic MMO
What BioWare's been up to in secret...
While we all kind of thought it was coming, EA's dark lord John Riccitiello revealed his insidious plan to take the hearts and minds of nerds everywhere.
The KOTOR MMO has been confirmed, and while details are light on the ground, we can at least tell you that the universe lends itself to an online RPG environment While in Star Wars: Galaxies, regardless of how it made absolutely no sense, everybody wanted to be a jedi, KOTOR'S universe means that anyone can be a lightsaber-wielding ponce without the lore imploding on itself.
There has been no announcement made as to who exactly (beyond BioWare) is going to be handling the nuts and bolts of the KOTOR MMO, but once we know more, you will.