AusGamers Dragon Age: Inquisition Developer Interview with BioWare's Cameron Lee
Post by Joaby @ 10:46am 23/04/14 | Comments
AusGamers' Joab "Joaby" Gilroy pulled himself away from Dark Souls II long enough to chat with Aussie expat and BioWare producer, Cameron Lee, about all things Dragon Age: Inquisition. Read on for what he had to say...
AusGamers: The reformation of the Inquisition is an interesting situation canonically. How does the pursuit of the suppression of freedom factor into the new Inquisition's drive?
Cameron Lee: Ok... so... you're the first person to ever ask me that. The first inquisition and... God I hope I get my lore right or else David Gaider will kick my arse -- as I understand it the first inquisition was during a time of a lot of chaos, and there was no Chantry so to speak and Mages were obviously running rampant and going mental. So it was originally more a vigilante group. So within that vigilante group you had the persecution of mages to a degree, and their being merged in with the Templars at a later date, that all influenced where we're at but only through the course of history. So the Inquisition in our lore and in the time of this game, no-one really knew about it right. It's more kind of a forgotten loophole in church lore. It potentially has a lot of power and a lot of freedom in terms of church lore, but it's lost and nobody could even conceive of even bringing it back up again.
So when we form the inquisition in this game it's a Master Stroke almost by going through a loophole, because at the beginning of the game when the head of the Chantry and the head of the Mage's faction they're going into the Temple of Sacred Ashes to this peace talk, and they're all killed. There's this massive explosion and this breach in the sky opening up, and the Chantry's in absolute chaos. It's headless. You've got infighting between different factions, you've got people saying screw it let's all retreat back to Val Royeaux and elect a new leader et cetera.
So the formation of the inquisition is kind of always like a plan B that the head of the Chantry was considering, and then Cassandra starts to bring this all up after the events at the temple. And she's doing that because she knows that the Chantry was considering it and that the Chantry is just going to run off and talk about stuff rather than taking any action. So she sets things in motion via this loophole, picking up the Inquisition, but then as a player you need to go through a process of "well do people believe me? Do they know I didn't cause the explosion? Do they trust me enough? How do I start leading? How do I build it up slowly to the point where it's the Inquisition I want it to be as a player?" And that starts to develop through the plot and the side content.
AusGamers: In the previous games player characters were always capable of using Blood Magic but that seems counter to the role of a head inquisitor. Will Blood Magic be available to the player character? If it is, how will that impact the world?
Cameron: Blood magic is an interesting one. Pure blood magic in the lore of the game is really supposed to be a very evil power. In previous games it wasn't really perceived to be that way. We talked about it being that way in the lore, we'd talk about crazy mages who went down the blood magic route and how that would have nasty consequences. So in Inquisition if we can't bring that across, that consequence across then we won't do it. We're looking at a couple of different options that still give that quasi-evil kind of fantasy element without trying to go into the nitty gritty of blood magic conflicting with other elements, but we haven't landed on which one's going to be there.
So we recognise the problem and we're very cognisant of the fact that we may not be able to do blood magic, but we would certainly replace it with something pretty bad arse. I've seen some concepts of what that could be... I personally play evil people in games, and I've always been a blood mage, and I'd be quite happy to play these ones as well. Look ultimately the Inquisition is something that stands apart from the Chantry, so it's not like you as a player are beholden to them or beholden to being always good--you can be whatever you want to be. And if I want to be this bad arse necromancer kind of guy who fiddles with the spirit world I'm going to do it, because ultimately I'm going to do what has to be done to face this threat of the massive breach in the sky that threatens to swallow the world but also the threat of who is the puppet master behind that and all the other events that are taking place in the world at this time.
You certainly see a lot of different factions who would be able to step up and face this threat but are in a position of weakness for a number of different reasons. So someone is clearly behind all this, and that person is our main enemy in the game, and we have to do what we have to do. That's the loophole of the Inquisition, that they have the freedom to do what has to be done.
AusGamers: Game of Thrones has thrust the politics of fantasy worlds into the forefront of how people think about them, and the Player Character in Inquisition is the leader of a fairly political faction. Will politics play a large role in the game?
Cameron: Yes it does. There are a couple of different facets from that. There is one plot in particular which is very much a political plot, it's very much backroom deals and court intrigue and how you influence people based on your reputation. Sort of what can you pull off and at what cost to other people? There's a whole plot dedicated to that kind of experience, and it's bloody as well. Like Game of Thrones, I guess, is definitely a bloody type of politics--it's similar with us. Dragon Age has always had the blood and gore and the dark concept of politics and this plot is a great representation of that.
You mention that the Inquisition is a powerful political faction and that is absolutely true. All throughout the game you will slowly build up the Inquisition to be in a position of power, people recognise you for who you are and what authority you wield. The Inquisition has three main pillars right, they have a military force lead by one particular character, you've got a secret facet with spies and assassins lead by Leliana from DAO and then you've got a political pillar, which is all about the politics, the backroom deals and the connections you have... not just through nobles but also through merchant houses and stuff like that. And the area you decide to invest in both in terms of how you decide to grow and customise your Inquisition but also the types of content you decide to engage in is all up to the player. So if someone wants to play that kind of Game of Thrones-y political aspect they can definitely do it and that flavours the whole game and it impacts the whole game. They're still going to have to go around and kill some things themselves, but having that powerful political organisation will be reflected as well.
AusGamers: Has the surge in popularity of the Dark Souls series impacted how you guys approach Dragon Age as a series?
Cameron: Not really... we look at all RPGs, from big to small... and not even RPGs have influenced our game. Certainly as players we learn what we like, and as developers we look at what could be appropriate and what we can learn from the different games... whether it be art, animations, whether it's story or controls or just the general sort of vibe of the whole thing. Dark Souls we looked at when we were considering combat options. Not in terms of how we want to do that, but more, you know, when we're looking at controls--they're doing this and we're over here and it influences through the process of iteration.
What I like about Dark Souls personally is discussing the sense of accomplishment you get when you overcome a challenge, and that's something we can learn from. That's something, for example, when you take down a dragon you should feel that. You should feel that "Oh my god this thing's an absolute beast and I've gotta take it down". It shouldn't be just a static creature that sort of sits there, it's gotta feel like a hundred ton monster coming at you--we've definitely learned from that. I also like how fantastical they are with some of their art and their creatures and environments. And that kind of stuff you can intersperse. Dragon Age is not a High Fantasy sort of game, it's more grounded in reality... I guess... I mean not reality, you can shoot fireballs out of your hands... but there is that sense that it's more grounded, it's more real, it's more gritty, it's more natural. So we walk that line between being fantastical--and the Fade is definitely that--and our darker grittier sort of wilderness stuff. All these games sort of influence us in some form or another.
AusGamers: At PAX Australia you talked about how you weren't yet talking about importing save games... Have you guys made any progress on that yet?
Cameron: Had we announced the Dragon Age Keep at that point?
Cameron: Ok, well, I doubt whether we're going to be able to do direct Save Imports. It's still talked about, so you never know, particularly once we start heading through the finalling process and parts of the team start moving out of the main line of development. That's the part where some of these things can quickly spike up and results can come through.
What we wanted to do with the Keep is have that ability for people to be able to recreate their save -- particularly for Gen 4 platforms -- and that's quite a detailed list. There's hundreds and hundreds of choices in there, and most of it's narrated and there's pictures and text and stuff like that. So they should be able to recreate to the same detail their save file through that Dragon Age Keep online process, and then pull that save game down onto any platform. The thing I love about that is personally, say, I played on PC but I don't want to upgrade my PC so I want to play on Xbox One or PS4, I can still bring my experience across. That was the biggest goal that we wanted to accomplish, and I think the Keep definitely does that. Direct Save Imports... I just don't know. I hope we get there, but right now I'm not too sure. There's so much work still to be done.
AusGamers: Is there anything in Dragon Age Inquisition that is going to just blow fans of the Dragon Age games away? Anything they just don't know about yet?
Cameron: That's a hard question to answer. Some parts of the plot will be just breathtaking. I look back at DA:O and I look back at DA2 and I look at what we've got here and it's just ridiculous. The quality of the story and of your story and the breadth of the story, and then there's things being represented and realised in cinematics and visuals that are just stunning. It's just amazing right, so I think that will be breathtaking for them, but they're probably going to expect that. It's the next generation, and you want this stuff to look beautiful and people to feel like people and the voice acting to be brilliant and the music to be great, and all those things will be true. I think people will be surprised when they fight a dragon, that's definitely different.
The Inquisition is a big part of what I think is going to be a big part of what people will find surprising as well. Your ability to impact the world directly and physically through people is more than anything I've seen in a game. When I look at contemporary competitors, similar RPGs, you have these big worlds and these big massive environments and NPCs that walk around, and some of them are emergent AI and some of them aren't but it's a static world for the most part.
I can make decisions or I can take actions in these games and a lot of the time people don't notice or they don't care, you certainly can't have a physical impact on the world. But I think we're looking at the next generation of RPGs starting with Inquisition, and this is going to be one of these things and I think people are going to want to have an actual impact on the world, so you're no longer on the static stage, you're on a stage which changes on multiple facets based on what you as a player do. So I think players of Inquisition will be surprised at that because I don't think anyone's really gotten to that point yet--even though I think it's something that all games are going to want to do at some point if they're in our sort of space.
AusGamers: Has that posed any problems when developing for the Xbox 360 and PS3 compared to the beefier systems?
Cameron: Yes and no. Yes in that I know it will be a problem and no in that we haven't seen it yet. We make for the PC, and all the guys here have monster PCs, and we know what our budgets are in terms of what sort our memory limits are for different buckets from a development standpoint, and we target them for Gen 4. Our goal with the 360 and PS3 is to not change the gameplay experience. If we have to do it, we'll do it, but it shouldn't be dramatic differences in terms of core gameplay. What you're more likely to see is that we'll take the visual quality down. We have to take it down anyway, because you can't do the stuff we're doing on the old platforms, but that's the job we have in development. Core gameplay like changing the world and NPC interactions and emergent AI, that's a balancing act but I think we're pretty good on that. Being CPU-bound and then being GPU-bound on Gen-4 already--you know, we've pushed it to the limit--we'll come down from that for the other platforms. We haven't started optimisation yet though we're starting to think about it, but we're not going to let that stop us from making a brilliant game. We'll work out ways to bring it down without impacting too much.
AusGamers: Can you tell us more about the Romance options that were lightly detailed at PAX East recently?
Cameron: I can speak to it generally... the romances are more complex both in type of romances going forward and how you go through that romance. The different types of sexual orientation of the different kinds of characters around you is also more complex than in previous games. I think there's going to be a lot more realistic... realistic... you know what I mean -- anyway, more engaging and more involved than in previous games. That's definitely the goal, and we are definitely going to go out there with some characters just being one sexual orientation. And that previously wasn't the case. The real world reflects that so we're going to make a game that reflects that as well. But the details of how the mechanics and how those relationships work Mike Laidlaw or David Gaider would know more.