We went to the Bioware offices in Edmonton, Canada to check out Dragon Age: Origins. Check out our interview with Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk.
Just recently BioWare invited us down to Edmonton to check out their latest foray into the fantasy RPG world - Dragon Age: Origins! While the game itself has no multiplayer to speak of, Dragon Age still manages to really evolve the RPG genre as the team makes its first attempt at blending high fantasy with dark heroic themes. The result is a fantastically immersive game that truly is a spiritual successor to previous blockbusters like Neverwinter Nights and Baldur's Gate II.
ZAM.com managed to sit down with Ray Muzyka And Greg Zeschuk, co-founders of BioWare, and we got their input on inspirations for the game, why they chose to fully omit multiplayer gaming, what they aspired for in creating Dragon Age, and much more!
ZAM: We're here with Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeshuk, co-founders of BioWare, to talk about what went into the creation of Dragon Age: Origins. I'll start off with the one question that's been on my mind from the very beginning. You've made it clear that Dragon Age: Origins will not have a multiplayer option on launch; why not? Why did you move away from that?
Ray Muzyka: We wanted to focus on a really strong, emotionally engaging narrative that felt like your personal narrative, and we felt that the best way to do that in Dragon Age: Origins was to focus on the single player experience. We have a ton of online features through player developed content and showing your hero's journey through the social networking pages we're building. In a way, we have a lot of online functionality, but we decided to focus the game play, the storyline, around a really personal, emotionally engaging narrative.
Greg Zeschuk: I think we felt that we'd actually have to compromise the story elements to deliver the multiplayer elements. There will be other games [in the Dragon Age franchise] in the future that may be able to have multiplayer, but in the case of Dragon Age we really want to establish the strong story elements at its core.
ZAM: You guys developed Dragon Age hoping that it would eventually evolve to become a franchise, so I'm guessing in the future, multiplayer is on the plate?
Ray: It could be. Franchise-wise, we'll see how this does, and we'll see what works and what doesn't work and then evolve the game. In our philosophy, we spend a lot time listening to what the fans say. We see how the game does and we have a lot of dialogue back and forth - what we think, what they think and how it did, and we'll see how the picture unfolds.
ZAM: I asked this of Mark Darrah, executive producer of Dragon Age, earlier, but I did notice that you guys have put this as the spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate II and Neverwinter Nights, and it certainly feels like that, but are there any other influences that you drew from?
Ray: I think every RPG we've played and every RPG that BioWare has developed. We look at all the games we've developed and all the games we've played. We're big fan of the genre and we play all of our competitor's games, and we look for inspiration from all kinds of sources, like movies, books, etc. The dark heroic aspect of the IP, you could argue, is a mix from a high fantasy Tolkein-esque kind of world and a Michael Moorcock darker fantasy that's on the other end of the spectrum.
Greg: It's interesting because, aside from something like Baldur's Gate, there's no real direct reference. I mean, we've been inspired by a lot of stuff, but even the Baldur's Gate reference is more of a 'feeling,' an emotional inspiration, more than it is anything else. Dragon Age is a very unique game in its own way. That sense of scale, scope, the coolness of the characters and the tactical combat may have originated back in Baldur's Gate, but now we're presenting it re-evolved.
ZAM: I did notice that the tactic system is very reminiscent of the Final Fantasy 12 gambit system, which was essentially a simplified form of programming your party's A.I. While I enjoyed it, there certainly was a mixed bag of emotions in reaction to it. Other players felt that it got a little bit too complicated for their tastes.
Greg: Actually, you don't have to go into the tactics if you don't want to. You can go with some pre-set A.I. and the game automatically updates the abilities as you upgrade your characters.
Ray: You can also go with the archetypes. In reality, there are three levels of tactics, one is to never touch them and go with the defaults, which is perfectly fine. The second level is to change some of the broader things and the skills update as you get new abilities. And, finally, you can go micro and even take extra tactical slots as part of your progression system if you really want to get into that. That's for the players who, a little later in the game, just want to tweak that AI and make it just so. We want to cater to different kinds of players and give them that kind of accessibility for however they want to play.
Greg: It's exciting because, as you say, it's kind of a mixed bag, but for the people who really want to get into it, it's really cool. We expect that people will probably have contests to see who has the best A.I. layouts. Like they'll say "OK, here's my party, here's how much damage we did, and here's how this character did, etc." You can have online comparisons.
Ray: We're actually hoping to show some of that in the social network.
Greg: Yeah, it's cool because it's one more thing where it's optional if you want to play around with it, and it just gives you that extra personal touch.
ZAM: So this is a case where it's better to give more options for customization and have people able to choose a 'less complicated' version, rather than the other way around.
Ray: We like to have a depth and richness that allow you to dive into whichever sections of the game you really want to get into. The same is true of character creation, where you can just go with a character archetype, or, alternatively, you can go into excruciating detail if you enjoy that kind of thing.
ZAM: I do!
Ray: I do too! But not everybody does, and we recognize that.
ZAM: There's a great deal of emphasis being placed upon your new 'Facebook style' social network for Dragon Age: Origins. What was the reason behind the creation of these social networks? I know that there are a few games that are doing this, like Turbine's Lord of the Rings Online.
Greg: I think that, for us, it's a way for people to actually share their Dragon Age experience with people. It's one of the common things that really stand out in all of our games, in that two people can finish and get together and talk about their experience, and they'll have very different experiences. One will say, "Hey, over here, I killed this guy," and the other guy will say "Oh, I put him in my party!" And the first guy gets really surprised, and he's like "What! I didn't know you could get him in your party!" And suddenly, the game is a platform by which people can compare and contrast what they do. I think, for us, that's a big part of the game, because the online features are a about sharing your experience, creating your content and customizing yourself. In this way, building a platform to show that and display that is very important.
Ray: It's almost another form of storytelling. It's the social narrative. It's outside of the game, and it's cool to compare. One of the things that's really awesome, and journalists that don't play these kind of games are blown away by this, is when we set up a dual screen approach to playing through the game. We show the choices in real time of the same party going through and doing things in different ways, and this really shows how different the experience can really become after a series of those choices. The social networking pages are almost a way to show that choice and action and display that. Given that Dragon Age is a single player game, this social networking is almost a form of multiplayer to compare your experiences and have your hero's journey displayed to your friends.
ZAM: When developers create these types of games, they typically go in with "core" factors that they say will make their game unique, or they say that these factors will make their game really great. If you could say three qualities that you would like people to see within your game, what would you like them to see?
Ray: Well there are things that are true of all of BioWare's games. One of the core things that binds all of our games together is an emotionally engaging narrative. It doesn't matter what the genre is, or the focus or the feature set or the platform, we want people to really experience something that's genuine, that's powerful and really grabs them emotionally. Dragon Age is all about the epic feel of the dark heroic fantasy; it has tactical depth and richness in combat, it has really interesting interactions. It really depends on what the player wants to get out of it.
Greg: I think, for me, one of the things that I really loved about the game when it came out was the characters that you journey with. The characters are interesting! They're chatting and they're entertaining, and they really have a lot of depth. I think that the concept of exploring this giant world with your favourite characters is kind of exciting. There's so much to this game. I think the thing is that we don't build our games with that "core concept approach." We sort of joke that for a lot of other games, as soon as they finish the core element of the game, then they figure that they're almost the done the game. Well, that's where we start.
Ray: All in all, I think it's your personal journey and that's the best way to sum it up. It has that richness of depth and content and features. Because there are so many ways you could experience the game, we want you to experience it the way that you truly want to play through a fantasy adventure.
ZAM: Well thanks a lot for taking the time to sit down and chat with us, and it truly does look like Dragon Age: Origins is going to be the next big thing!
Greg: Thanks a lot.
Ray: It was a pleasure.
Christopher "Pwyff" Tom