Aussie Expat and Dragon Age: Inquisition Producer Cameron Lee Talks BioWare, Next-Gen, Ponies and More
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 12:19pm 15/08/13 | Comments
AusGamers had a chance to catch up with BioWare's Cameron Lee who also happens to be an Aussie expat. In an interview that wasn't allowed to focus at all on what he's currently working on, we got some fantastic insight into game development, next-gen and ponies. Read on or watch for what he had to say...
Watch the full interview embedded above, or click here for a direct link.
AusGamers: Ladies and gents, welcome back to AusGamers at an historic event here in Australia, PAX Australia -- hopefully the first of many more to come. I’ve got Cameron, who is also Australian, but has the good fortune to work out at BioWare.
Now I know we’re not allowed to talk about a lot of things (Dragon Age 3), so for all of the Aussies out there wanting to get into the games industry, let’s start with where you kicked off.
Cameron Lee: Ok. So I started my career in the games industry in Melbourne; I started with a company called Tantalus, did some games for Pixar and stuff like that, then I moved to Transmission and did some flight combat games; I’ve worked on pony games, I’ve worked on zoo games, where you, like, brush and soap up the animal -- it’s awesome! -- and then after a number of years with those sorts of studios, I joined EA’s Visceral Games, which was in Melbourne.
I was there for about four years, working on a number of Visceral titles, and then eventually we got shutdown, which was very unfortunate, because we were doing some really great work, and then it was, like, a matter of “Well what do you do at this point?”. There was nothing really in Australia that I wanted to do with the companies here, so I had a chance to go over and speak to BioWare, they said “Come over and talk to us”, I said “Great”. It was always my dream studio.
AusGamers: And what do you do? What’s your day-to-day there?
Cameron: I’m a producer. There’s a lot of things to that, but the most important thing really, is to represent the fans. So understand where we can take the product, where the fans want us to take the product, how we can do that, and what will make them happy, then bringing that back into the team and trying to unleash the team in a direction that’s really going to satisfy the fans, is really what a producer does... and the team there is awesome. They know what people really want anyway, so my job is to just nudge them this way “They’d love this”, you know, so it’s a really, really enjoyable job.
AusGamers: So would it be your advice then, to any young Australians trying to get into the games industry, to start with ponies, then move to horror games, and then you’ll eventually get a job at an RPG expert?
Cameron: [laughs] Yeah, I think that’s probably a good way to do it. It’s weird, I know so many people in the industry in Melbourne, and in Australia, and we all seem to have worked on some form of Pony game. So it’s, like, My Little Pony, and Pony Friends, and Farm Adventures, all of this kind of stuff. You know, why not, right? Just do something that you can learn from, and that you can ship.
The skills that you learn on smaller games, are the same skills that you take to a big game. So do that; work for indies, do games yourself, you know, whatever. Just do something that you love and you’re passionate about, that you can then take overseas, with those sort of skill sets. Definitely.
AusGamers: Obviously PAX is a big event, celebrating indies, celebrating community. At the moment I’m working on a feature around what it means to be indie and what it means to be Triple-A, and whether or not there’s actually a divide there, and if the divide exists, is it good that it exists? Is there essentially two industries, and do you think it would be better if they converged a bit more to learn from one another?
Cameron: I don’t know whether we need to converge the industries. We serve a different beast, if you know what I mean. With the big Triple-A games, we’re really trying to hit massive entertainment, and really sort of in-depth experiences -- particularly BioWare, with massive stories and things like that -- you can’t do that on indie budgets. You can tell a great story, don’t get me wrong, but with the sort of all-encompassing experiences that really get the people in, it’s hard to do it on smaller budgets.
You can definitely learn a lot both ways, I think. Indies are great, and the guys at BioWare are really big fans of indies; the Kickstarter stuff is brilliant. I’m trying to get... I’m hanging out for the new Shadowrun title, which looks wicked. Mark Darrah, and Mike Laidlaw, and Dave Gaider, they all back so many indies.
So you definitely do learn some stuff going both ways, but I don’t think I’d want to see them merge, because they serve different beasts. When I want to have a nice experience like FTL or something like that, I just want to have that, I don’t want to have all of the other stuff that goes along with a Triple-A game.
AusGamers: Do you think it’s problematic then, that you’ve got platforms like Xbox One and PS4 upcoming, that are obviously geared really heavily towards Triple-A, and even though Sony has announced relatively comfortable plans for indies, it sort of seems like a really hard sell for an indie game on there to reach a mass consumer market, and it kind of feels like an uphill battle then, to make that leap from one side of the industry to the other, is actually a lot harder than it should be.
Dragon Age: Inquisition E3 2013 Reveal Trailer
Cameron: Yeah, it’s pretty hard to do. There are definitely some successes that have done it, through XBLA and PSN. So I think that when you do have successes in indie, whether it be on PC or whatever, you know Steam etc, you can potentially take it across to the consoles. Just having good relationships with the first-party guys, and hoping that they do focus on the indies a little bit more, and get more stuff on XBLA and PSN.
And the stuff that sells really well on those platforms, for indies, they’re generally niche kind of titles anyway, which is great for the indies. The big broad games don’t sell really well on XBLA and PSN, so I think if you can make the transition from something like Steam on PC, to those, that would be great. I’ve spoken to Microsoft and Sony, and they seem really keen to do it, so hopefully they don’t put those barriers in place.
AusGamers: Now I know we can’t talk specifically about what you’re working on, but just from a philosophical point of view: obviously we’ve got these new consoles coming out, but the PC has been driving a pretty big push in technology [in] that next-generation sheen and shine. For you guys, is it going to be going into the next-generation with platform parity in mind, or do you feel that there’s actually enough differentiation between all three of the major platforms, to kind of start gearing your products in different ways?
Cameron: That’s a really good question actually. So we develop on PC, so first and foremost, we develop on that. I’m a massive PC gamer; I own all the consoles, but I rarely use them, because of PC, why not? But in terms of the titles going forward into the next-generation, mostly you’d aim for platform parity. If you can do something that’s pretty special on a particular platform, you try and find a way to do it, or at least give a similar kind of experience across the other platforms.
Because we wouldn’t want to cut great parts of the game out from other audience groups; I would never want to do that. So definitely platform parity would be great. Obviously between gen three and gen four it’s going to be different, and that’s a struggle in and of itself. The graphics obviously, on gen four are wicked; on high-end PCs they’re great. You’re going to struggle to get as good a looking game on the gen three stuff, but we’ll do the best we can.
But from a gameplay perspective, and an experience perspective, and for what a lot of BioWare stuff is known for, with the story, that won’t be any different for us.
AusGamers: Are you guys excited about any one particular factor? I mean, E3 tended to focus really heavily on companion apps, which I actually genuinely am excited for as well...
Cameron: For me personally, and I know the always-online stuff can be really troublesome for particular groups, but it was one area that you could probably do some really good stuff with it. But if the infrastructure around the world in some countries doesn’t support it, well then you need to actually look at that and say “Ok, well we can’t do that”. Hopefully at some point -- it could be 10 years from now -- when it actually is good enough, so the military can have their connections all the time, and everyones got good stable connections, we’d probably be able to do some great stuff.
The second screen stuff, and all the different companion apps, there’s some cool opportunities there. I think someone’s going to work out how to do it right, in the sort of year that we have between the gen four launch, and when we ship. So we’ll be looking at what people do, and what our fans want, and how our fans react to different companion apps, and we’ll sort of merge that with some of our own ideas that we’ve already got, and see what comes out.
AusGamers: Obviously Dragon Age 3 is announced, that’s definitely something that’s happening out at BioWare. Mass Effect wrapped up, and that was a really long undertaking. I followed that from the start, and spoke to Casey [Hudson, Mass Effect Creative Director] a bunch of times. Now there’s probably a lot of stuff going on at BioWare, but I’m keen to know if the vibe in the office is a little bit different now that this one major arc doesn’t exist anymore?
Cameron: I guess a little bit. With Mass Effect -- the core trilogy of it anyway -- ending, it’s freed up some people to think about what to do next, and that builds a certain level of excitement. And combine that with gen four, which again: what can we do with these things? There’s, I think, a sense of real exploration in what we want to try and accomplish, and that’s great; that energy level sort of ramps up again.
Having worked on consoles for so many years as well, you kind of know how far you can push it, and now it’s like it’s an unknown barrier again on the hardware. And also as I said “What does BioWare do next?”, so that’s going to be really interesting to see.
AusGamers: And finally, I’ll just wrap up with one more: having come from Visceral, and now being out at BioWare, those two companies both having a pretty good history with transmedia, and BioWare being such a story-driven developer. Do you think that there needs to be more of a push to get these grandiose worlds that developers make, into the hands of consumers in various forms, as opposed to just games?
Cameron: Yeah, I think so. Particularly something like Dragon Age. There’s a lot novels, there’s comic books, there’s all the action figures and all that sort of stuff. I think we’d like to do more of that. Mike Laidlaw, who’s the Creative Director on Dragon Age, he’s a former writer himself, so he’s heavily involved in trying to push the franchise out, beyond just the core game.
We would never want to weaken the core experience that you have within the main game, but if we can sort of extend it out a little bit, there’d be some really interesting things that you could do there. And we’ve got some ideas, which hopefully we can talk about at a later date, around the topic.
AusGamers: So nothing like Defiance of anything like that? Where you guys would be building a game, and then have a TV show that would be driven by the players or anything?
Cameron: Ahhh, no [laughs]. You know, that’s a massive undertaking, and not something we’re thinking about at the moment. Who knows what happens in the future with it? But for Dragon Age Inquisition, we’re just focused on the main game. We want to nail this one, and do it right, and give the players what they want, and that sort of quality experience. So all of our time, and all of our effort, and all of our focus is focused on those guys.
AusGamers: Ok, we’ll wrap it up there Cameron, but thanks so much. Have a great PAX, and we’ll see you soon. Cheers.
Cameron: Cheers. You too.