Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka of BioWare must have clocked up some impressive air miles in recent years. It seems that whenever something happens regarding their games, they're whisked off all over the world, shut in small rooms and bombarded with inane questions about whichever one of their portfolio of franchises happens to be on display. With Dragon Age 2 looming on the horizon we managed to catch up with them right at the end of a long day at EA's Winter Showcase in London, so it was only natural that questions about nude mods, new characters and how long the new game might be cropped up. Here's what they had to say:
One of the things I've been wondering is how different the PC version is going to be from the console one, as the latter's the only one that's been on show.
Yeah, I don't think we've shown off the PC one yet, but obviously we're working on it in parallel. We looked at the things people loved about Dragon Age: Origins PC, Xbox and PS3 and we're trying to ensure that the things they enjoy are going to be there in the sequel. We had to make some changes in the way the camera works and the interface, but in every one of our games we always strive to make sort of a hand-crafted approach to the interface design, so each one is designed from the ground up to work ideally on that platform. That's what we're striving for. So, we're co-developing on the different platforms, trying to optimise it for the mouse and keyboard so people can enjoy it more on PC. When you see it, hopefully you'll have that reaction.
You've announced a new major character for Dragon Age 2, Isabela. Is she the same one that was in the Pearl in the first game, the one that taught you the duelling ability?
Yeah, she's like the captain who'd run off, a ship's captain or something. I think that's her. You had to beat her at cards, win the gambling game, then you'd get the ability. I think she was even a romantic interest, actually. A really obscure path that would activate it. Not a primary one, but she's an interesting character.
Did you always intend to bring her forward into the second game?
I don't know. Not necessarily, she might have been flagged as an interesting character, but I don't know. The actual original Dragon Age was written years ago, and it was rewritten a number of times. We even had it running in the Neverwinter Nights engine, so you could actually play Dragon Age in the Neverwinter Nights engine. The intent might have been in the last iteration, but certainly not in the first ones. You never really know what sticks and what doesn't, it's kind of funny. I can guarantee that, as it's something we do with all of our characters and environments, it'll have been in the World Bible, like a description of who she is, attributes and personality, and probably perusing that, given the games' overlap in time line, it'd be an obvious choice to say “She'd be really cool as a rogue,” because she is one, to provide a link for players who recognise her from the first game. There are others too, but I guess it's sort of a reward for players who played the first game.
Yeah, the important thing to remember is the end part of Origins crosses over with the beginning of Dragon Age 2, so there's quite a bit of opportunity for whoever is still alive to make an appearance.
With the crossover, would you perhaps encounter your main character or that group of heroes from the first game?
It'd be interesting to hear about it at least.
Would you ever consider retro-fitting Origins with the new characters, like they'd be in the background in shared locations or something like that?
Like Hawke being in Lothering? That's an interesting idea, the final PDLC or something like that. Usually when we have a new game in a franchise we focus our efforts on that one, but that would be kinda cool.
How aware were you of the modding scene for the first Dragon Age? What was the coolest one you saw?
The funniest one I saw was, actually it was kind of irritating, was the first thing they did was make a communal chest in the middle of your camp. You know, like “I'm a PC, I can do what I want”. Of course, there's all the nude patches as well. It'd kind of funny how ridiculous they are. They did it on Neverwinter as well, Half-Life has that, other games too.
Have you seen the Other Options at the Pearl one? Some bizarre things going on there!
(laughs) Sounds like it might be illegal to download that one. No, I've checked in periodically on the mod scene, but I know our community team follows that stuff pretty closely.
Did you take anything from the mods for Dragon Age 2, any ideas?
Not really, I mean the challenge we have, to put it in perspective, is we usually finish the game three times or so before launch, and we're obviously playing our other games like Old Republic, Mass Effect 3 and such. I remember we were juggling at the time Dragon Age: Origins testing and Mass Effect 2 testing and Old Republic testing, plus PDLC testing. We pretty much didn't play any games other than our own up until Christmas. With TOR, we actually have these leaderboards in the office tracking how much people have played, like weekly, lifetime. We were at the top of the list for a while, but that was a brief while. You know, it's actually a good sign, as we play our games a lot, so we catch a lot of bugs. That's always a sign that the game's shy of being good, because people aren't all incredibly sick of it by the end and they're actually still playing it, partially for professional reasons to get work done, but also for personal reasons.
The first Dragon Age was a very long game, so how does Dragon Age 2 compare?
Arguably it covers a longer span of time, a decade, which is defined by the heroic, inspirational moments in that time, different chapters and acts. When you play it, you could get through it faster, or you could try to take your time in each of the chapters, plus the potential replayability too with different classes, different party compositions. It's probably not as large, but it's more focused, which is somewhat intentional, because we had a lot of people actually say they really wanted to see the ending, but it was so long that they couldn't get through it. One of our playthroughs took 120 hours on PC. PC seemed to play a little longer than console, but doing everything was well over a hundred hours on either format.