CCC: How do you make sure those rough patches don't happen?
ML: We play it as soon as it's playable. The nice thing about working with the toolset that we have is that you can bring it to the point where it's playable quite easily. You can very simply create a prototype. We didn't have the tools we have now when we started, so what we did is we went to Neverwinter Nights and we created playable versions using the module builder there. So you can play through them and get a feel for the story and the pacing, and you can say "this needs more fighting" or "I don't really know what I'm doing here in this part." That kind of thing. You end up with quality control right from the ground floor. And of course, you throw a ton of QA guys at it. Basically you get 140 people together and you get them all facing the same direction.
Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg ZeschukCCC: I was one of the handful of people who saw Dragon Age when it was first revealed at E3 years ago. Can you talk about how it's changed since then?
GZ: I think it's evolved. Those early days are when we were still trying out ideas. At that point, you don't really know what the final product is going to look like necessarily, but we know what direction we want to go in. That's effectively what we do - we set the direction we want to travel and go from there. That's essentially what we did. We actually laid out the levels in the Neverwinter Nights engine to get an idea of the flow and started building the game. Then over time the new tech came in, the voices came in, the game started to take shape.
RM: We wanted to do fantasy with a twist. It's not your standard high fantasy. It's fantasy with an edge, sort of a darker bite to it. It's got elements of George R.R. Martin or Michael Moorcock as well as Tolkien. I think people are going to be really delighted and surprised when they play through it, because they're going to have certain expectations, and we're going to throw them a curveball right at the last minute and they'll get to discover something that's unique about the universe.
CCC: Is the twist and the darkness the element of the game that will appeal to the more mainstream gamer?
GZ: I think that might be it. I think the strongest element that uses that as its foundation is the story and the characters. The type of players that will play Dragon Age is anyone who likes a story. The story alone is strong enough and has so many interesting things that happen that we think anyone who has a chance to play it will get pulled in.
RM: And ideally you'll feel like you're taking on the morally challenging role of the Grey Warden. Hopefully it's going to be very emotionally engaging. That's one of the things that we always strive for in our games is to make you feel something. So if you like being a dark hero in this dark world with a story that's really your personal journey through a fantasy universe that's not what you might expect with a lot of twists and edge, that's going to appeal to a lot of people. We spent a lot of time on accessibility, making it easy to play and also it has the depth. If you ever want to go into the detail of progression, customization, tactics, story, exploration, combat, we've got all the depth you could want in all that. But all of those can be approached in a very accessible way.
GZ: It's up to the player how deep they want to go into almost any area of gameplay.
CCC: The development of the game predates BioWare's joining of EA. What was that process like? How did they initially receive the game?
GZ: We'd actually pitched it to EA. When we were an independent developer they were one of the groups we pitched it to, so they were aware of it and they'd expressed interest in it. What we were able to show them is how far we'd progressed, and they've been wonderfully supportive of the game.
RM: We say "they" but we actually are EA as a collective. EA's given us real support, like the creation of this new group, the RPG/MMO group is indicative of the type of support EA has for the kinds of games we're building. Games with rich stories, progression and customization, exploration and all the things you've come to love about a BioWare RPG or a Mythic MMO. You can see that there's a lot of support for it. There's definitely a focus from EA now on the customers and the quality, which is something that John Riccitiello expresses a lot, and we really believe in that. It's all about the fans; delivering good, quality games for the fans. That's what keeps us in business, so you can't break that trust.
CCC: BioWare is one of the EA developers that fans point to when they claim that EA is no longer the "evil empire" of video games.
RM: If we can play a part in helping the company evolve and grow in the right direction, then that would be a great honor for us. I like to think that there are a lot of great teams within EA. The teams at DICE are amazing, there are great teams across the board that are doing great work that we're really proud of.