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Dragon Age: Inquisition Developer Interview with Cameron Lee: Difficulty, Theorycrafting, Dynamism and More
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 11:50am 10/07/14 | Comments
AusGamers caught up with friend of the site Cameron Lee to discuss a host of new topics where Dragon Age Inquisition is concerned. Read on for what he had to say...

AusGamers: With the larger scale of the world, how much of it is interactive? Are there a lot more side-quests?

Cameron Lee: What we’ve done with the story of Dragon Age Inquisition, it covers two nations -- Ferelden and Orlais -- and that’s thousands and thousands of kilometres of world, so the story is that broad and sweeping. We can’t make that amount of space -- thousands of kilometres -- so what we’ve done is we’ve taken the best parts, or the parts that make the most sense to the story, and we’ve made these massive open areas.

I couldn’t actually tell you… I don’t know how big it is in terms of the square kilometres, but that part of the demo that you saw -- the Hinterlands -- that’s definitely bigger than all of Dragon Age: Origins. You can go anywhere that you can see -- there’s complete freedom there. There’s all kinds of caves that you can explore into straight away; there’s villages, two different villages in that area, and there’s multiple other castles and outposts, and bandit camps and stuff like that.

They’re all full of side-quests, activities, combat encounters; there’s a whole bunch of different things in there.

AusGamers: It feels like you guys are planning for a lot more longevity in this game…

Cameron: Definitely, yes.

AusGamers: ...and one of the things I noticed in the showcase is that regions are obviously affected by the way that you play. Does that mean that you want people to come back and keep playing after they’ve finished the story sections there?

Cameron: Absolutely, yes. So two points on that, one: the game isn’t structured such that you consume an area, then move onto the next, then move onto the next. It’s structured so that we encourage players to go back and forward between these different regions all of the time. Some of the areas in these regions are say too high level for you to get to go there originally -- there might be a dragon there -- so it’s, like, ‘I could go and fight it; I’m going to get killed, but I’m going’, so maybe you come back to that area later on.

But then, when you finish the game, you’re still in the world, so you’re still going to do all of these different things. There’s parts of the game that we’ve built that are so difficult that we would only really want players to go there after they finish the story, because it’s just that high level. So it all sort of changes as you go through the story, and we want people to, as you said, have a lot of longevity in the game.

AusGamers: Do the AI and environments evolve over time? Say I’ve got a town that is mine, then I go off and come back to it, will things have changed there?

Cameron: It would depend on the area. There’s a part of the game… well there’s many parts, but one part in particular that I can recall: when you first go in there, it’s part of Orlais and there’s a lot of rebels, and you can do various side quests -- fight them, and clear them out -- that then brings in another faction that sort of takes their place almost, then you can do the same thing again, and something else occurs.

There’s another area which is like a complete enemy stronghold -- in terms of the whole region is a stronghold -- and you can come in and bring your Inquisition Forces in and almost fight this dynamic battle as you push the enemy back. You can send your soldiers in to defend this tower and stuff like that. So the world is quite dynamic.

We don’t want it to be just time-based, we want it to be more based on the player’s actions, so if you as a player decide that you’re going to abandon this crew, then something is going to happen, but not just because you haven’t done anything. Because you don’t know how people will… they might be busy doing other stories and side-quests.

AusGamers: I wanted to talk about the tactics and the game and the way you make up your party. Have you guys set-up specific fights in a way that people can theorycraft it? So this fight is setup in a way that you have this kind of party composition, or is it more like you’re going to be able to get through, you’ve just gotta figure it out for your party?

Cameron: It’s kind of a combination of the two. We design the fights and the encounters, for the most part, assuming that there’s probably going to be a warrior, a mage and a rogue. So that’s three of the four [party members] that you can have. So the fourth one provides a little bit more flexibility to be whatever you want.

So we generally design them like that, but that’s not to say that you can’t go in there with four mages, because you totally can. If you decide to do that, I’m sure you’ll be able to do it, but you’ve got to think about how to do it.

The combat systems and the creatures and the enemy abilities, it’s so bloody complex that it’s almost impossible to create fixed encounters, so we just do it with a broad sense of assuming that there’s one of each class, and if they want to do all rogues, or all mages, or all warriors, or whatever combination, then have fun; go mental. If you want to do four mages, it’s great fun, I’ll tell you that [laughs].

AusGamers: With customisation, you guys talk about play-style and the way you spec, and you’ve got two hundred different options in there. When you change to another character,will the AI remember your playstyle when it takes over, or is it more just ‘this is how we want that to play when the AI takes over’?

Cameron: So what we’ve done is we’ve created almost like a playbook system for the AI, so you can kind of… in the menu you can say, for the attack play, I want my characters to be doing this type of ability, and this type of ability -- not in mega, mega, fine detail, but just generalised. So that way when you say attack, everyone goes into attack mode, and you can do the same for defence and a number of different things.

You can set those up really quickly, and really easily. We wanted to make it as impactful and has hardcore as it used to be, but simple enough that newcomers can get in there and get meaning out of it; get value out of the AI system. So that’s how we kind of do it, and you can change those AI settings on the fly. That’s one of the things that we’re going to do with Kinect, is you can actually just call it out and go “Defend” and everyone will go into defence.

AusGamers: Talking about the tactical mode you have, where obviously you can stop time and play like that, do you worry that that’s then going to create a potentially cheap way to play? The demo was very immersive, particularly watching the dragon being slain, that was awesome; then they showed me the tactical view of other encounters -- the one where they were putting the warrior at that bottleneck -- where it looked like you could almost figure out a winning strategy, set it up and walk away while it plays out.

Cameron: Possibly, but I think if they can do that, then more power to them if that’s how they want to play. The way we’ve looked at the tactical view and the action side of it, is that everyone is different in terms of how much pressure they can take in the action combat. You sound like you would be able to handle a lot of action, with shit flying everywhere and being kind of crazy; other players have a lower tolerance for that kind of stuff.

So the pause and play -- the tactical view -- you can fire it at any point, and what it does, is it removes time as a variable. So you can go ‘boom’ I can take a breather, pressure is lowered, and if that’s the type of player that they are, they can then maneuver things around. It’s really up to the player to decide how much they want to use it and how little.

The higher difficulties that you can play the game in, you’ll probably want to use it, because it’s so hard; you’ll get slaughtered. But the tactics, you can set them up, but the variable is always… even if you try to find one fantastic tactic that is going to work, the enemies are pretty smart, and they’ve got a lot of abilities that can screw with you, so they will react to the tactics that you put down. They’re going to then counter-tactic, so they might break you.

Often when we play that demo, and we put Iron Bull into that chokepoint, you’ll see some of the enemies start to try and move around. There’s actually another ramp, and you’ll see that some of them actually end up getting to the top, because you put Bull there to defend the spot. That’s an example of the AI being a little bit smarter.

AusGamers: For the PC fans out there, are you guys going to have mod support in this game at all?

Cameron: We’ve thought about it and talked about it, but we’re still kind of talking about it. I guess at this point, I can’t really go into much more detail than that.

AusGamers: Talking about the choices that you make having an impact on the game later on: one of the examples in the demo was a character’s death, and if that would play out different with other party members. Do the impacts of that affect your player later in the story?

Cameron: Absolutely. Dorian, who was the mage following there, he’s got a very strong relationship with Alexius, so how you interact with the characters in the stories -- both the enemies and your own followers, does have a really significant impact.

It’s so complex I’m not sure where to start. First of all, you may not actually find all of the followers, for one. But once you’ve got a follower, how you treat them and what you do in the story will impact your relationship with them. That opens up, or closes up, pieces of content throughout the game. Then decisions that you’re making in the story -- like what you saw today -- can have a flow-on effect, both through the rest of the story beats as you go through, the ending, and what content you see.

So it’s really very complex, about how much control the players have over the types of content. And as I was saying before, that whole demo you saw, in the last half of it, when you’re fighting with Alexius and Felix, not all the players are going to see that, because going into that area is the result of a branching choice in the game. So you may have picked another area and you wouldn’t be going into that castle at all, you’d be going somewhere else entirely.

There’s whole sections of the game that are like that, that we branch off entirely. You can go to Red Cliff Village, and see the consequences of you picking the other decision. So we’ve made sure that any exclusive content, you can still see the flip side of the consequences as well.

AusGamer: Having over two hundred choices for customisation and builds, it really does open up to community theorycrafting and a lot of forum discussions for people to share and tune their experiences. So with the social component, are you doing anything for bragging rights?

Cameron: Obviously there’s the forums. We’ve got the Dragon Age Keep, which is kind of the web save for world creation, so that’s sort of where you set up the state of the world from your previous two games, then you bring that in at the beginning of the game. So that will have some aspects of: here’s my character, here’s his build, with some details there.

We’re still working on some kind of companion app -- sort of iPad, iPhone, Android sort of apps -- that start to bring some of that theorycrafting out. I don’t want to go into too much detail about it, because we’re still working on it, but you can do things like create an awesome sword, in crafting, that has these great stats for this particular build, and you can share that sort of recipe almost, with someone else. So there’s all these sorts of different things that we’re doing.

AusGamers: Okay great, thanks for your time Cameron.

Cameron: No worries.

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