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AusGamers Chats with Dragon Age: Inquisition Producer Cameron Lee, Again
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 12:58pm 20/08/14 | Comments
Ex-pat Aussie Cameron Lee, Producer on Dragon Age: Inquisition and friend of the site, sat down with AusGamers to talk about how the latest chapter in the Dragon Age series is shaping up, again. Read on for what he had to say...

Cameron: How are you going, mate?

AusGamers: Good. I’m Nathan.

Cameron: Nathan. I’m Cameron.

AusGamers: Nice to meet you. That’s an Aussie accent, isn’t it?

Cameron: It is an Aussie accent, yes.

AusGamers: But from a little while back. How long ago?

Cameron: Ah, no. I’ve only been in Canada with BioWare for, like, three years. But, yeah, originally from Melbourne, started working at Catalyst Games, worked at Transmission, then led the EA Melbourne side of things for five or six years, then over to BioWare in Canada.

AusGamers: That must be a bit of a dream come true, especially considering the dev scene and studio closures that were happening in Australia.

Cameron: Yup, I know so many people, obviously, from the Australian industry, and then everything collapsed. The strength of the Australian dollar made developing… particularly with third-party games that are really, really pricy, so we’d seen it coming for a long time, and then everything started collapsing. Krome went down, and all this sort of stuff, and then finally EA [Melbourne] went down, and it was brutal to see everyone go, and then a lot of the talent just goes overseas. A lot of my mates have gone over, there are guys working at Ubisoft, guys working at EA, guys working at BioWare, whatever, and it’s brutal. But the silver lining, some of the guys that I’ve worked with who are amazingly talented set up their own little studios, and stuff like that, which has happened so much now in Australia, all these little micro-studios are forming up. So it’s great to see that kind of stuff but, yeah, working for BioWare was definitely a dream. So, for me, it was always, the games I want to make are big, ambitious, massive games and I’ve been a fan of BioWare for so many years, since I was a kid.

AusGamers: What’s your favourite BioWare game?

Cameron: KotOR [Knights of the Old Republic].

AusGamers: Yes. I was putting it in your mind.

Cameron: Like a Jedi mind trick.

AusGamers: Yeah.

Cameron: KotOR is probably my favourite game of all the BioWare games, and probably of all time, realistically. In terms of games that I’ve sunk the most hours into, that’d be something like Everquest or, even the X3 game, but probably Everquest more than anything.

AusGamers: So it sounds like you’re the right man for the job when it comes to taking charge of an action-RPG.

Cameron: I would hope so.

AusGamers: Does this mean we can expect to see little bits of KotOR in Dragon Age?

Cameron: I wouldn’t go so far as to say that.

AusGamers: No lightsabers.

Cameron: Yeah, that’d be a weird aspect of the story. But, yes, in the sense of story and characters and stuff like that. Everyone talks about BioWare’s stories as being what we do, but inside the studio, what we often talk about is the characters. What we think we do really well is characters, and KotOR’s characters are fantastic, and I think Dragon Age: Inquisition’s characters have that same level of backstory to them and depth and emotion and all that sort of stuff.

AusGamers: I noticed that the female lead that we saw today [during the stage presentation] had a little bit more armour than I’m used to seeing in an action-RPG, so it’s almost like there’s this seriousness behind it as well. What sort of tone are you going for?

Cameron: That’s a great question, and the armour actually plays a part of that. You look at… the tone is more moody, I guess, and that’s because the events that are transpiring in the world are quite serious now. We spent the last two games building up this sense of chaos and strife over the world, and a lot of the books have got the same thing; we’ve tried to build up this thing. So the world now is in absolute chaos. The big rift is in the sky, as you know, there is someone behind it, which you got a first look at today in the trailer, which I was just wrapped with, so yeah, shit’s gotten real.

AusGamers: That’s the tagline, right?

Cameron: Exactly. That should be the tagline. Not, ‘Lead them or fall’, but ‘Shit’s got real’. That’s reflected in the art, that’s reflected in the armour and things you can create through characters and dialogue and choices you make, and you lead this big inquisition, this organisation and, again, you saw a very small clip, and hopefully you get a chance to play it as well back here, but the war table where you can command the inquisition and do this 300 or more operations and unlock different parts of the world to go and explore. Again, they’re all themed in this context of the world’s in strife.

AusGamers: I find it really interesting that there’s this whole big thing of the inquisition, which is obviously the subtitle, because my understanding of an inquisition is as a very negative thing from the likes of the Spanish Inquisition. I actually initially expected the inquisition to be the evil force that was taking over the world and I’m suddenly getting into the mind of, hang on, an inquisition doesn’t have to be bad. Are you finding that something that you’re wrestling with, or are you playing with the greyer area of the ideas of this group of people being pulled together to go, ‘Okay, you get to determine what is wrong and what is right’?

Cameron: It’s an interesting question; I get it every now and then. For us, the inquisition in its purest form is about uncovering the truth of what’s behind all this chaos and doing whatever’s necessary to find that truth. So then when you think about the Spanish Inquisition, although they did lots of horrendous things, I guess in their minds, anyway, they were trying to uncover the truth. So that’s our connection, or our thought behind the inquisition. It’s an interesting name because it invokes a lot of what you’re talking about, that memory of the Spanish Inquisition. But what we’ve found is when we first started testing the name, people go, ‘I don’t have a problem with it, but I imagine someone else might have a problem with it.’ But I’ve never had anybody say, ‘I’ve got a problem with it.’ It really is just all about you bringing together all these people, these heroes and these leaders in their own right, to form this inquisition and build it up over time and uncover that truth, and then try and do something about it.

AusGamers: You’ve touched on the idea of story, narrative, characters; how is that going to play out, ultimately? Is it a very linear story you’re going through, albeit with branching choices? Is there an open ending, or multiple endings that you can play with?

Cameron: We’re doing things quite differently in Inquisition than the previous games, so there are two major aspects to the game, one being the critical-path story, the other being the open area, exploration, and we link those together through the Inquisition. And through the inquisition and that war table… I’m going to sneeze, and it’s just sitting there.

AusGamers: Let it out when you have to, man.

Cameron: Stick that in the interview.

AusGamers: Yeah, that’ll be in the transcript.

Cameron: That’s right. What that means is that, although the critical path does have these big branching points and exclusive content, exclusive plots, even, based on some of the decisions and actions you take in the game, the player, through their normal play-through, can go in and out of the story whenever they want to. They can go and explore, they can go and follow the story, they can spend 20 hours exploring, then come back and then decide, okay, now I want to get back into developing the story. I want to take this aspect of the story and go follow that. So there’s a lot more variety in how the player has control over their experience with the story than with previous games.

AusGamers: You’ve got the party system, and you’ve got the tactical mode where you can freeze time and get your party members to do things, in my mind, it lends itself really easily towards co-op. Is that something you have considered for this, or is this a purely single-player-driven experience?

Cameron: We’ve looked at co-op and stuff like that, in the past, and Mass Effect has done amazing stuff with their multiplayer, so we’ve looked at stuff, but at this point, there’s nothing fixed.

AusGamers: Nothing to announce. Okay. When I was watching the demo, I was thinking about how, if I was talking to you about, say, making a first-person shooter, we would be probably taking about things like artificial intelligence, which really doesn’t seem to be a question that people are asking in terms of an action-RPG. How important is AI in Dragon Age?

Cameron: It’s actually really important. It’s amazingly important, because what you’re doing is creating a fantasy world, right. From the ground up, you build this thing. That’s building the characters, that’s building the factions and the cultures and the environments that they live in. So when you look at animal life; how would animals behave? How would foxes react to wolves, then how would wolves react to men? And then there are demons and behemoths and giants and dragons and all these things, so they all have different types of predator and prey behaviours against each other. And then, human AI, in terms of pure combat, that’s actually really important, as well, because you want something that’s believable and reactionary. So if you see an archer and soldier, as enemies, why wouldn’t an archer try and get behind a soldier and have the soldier take point, so the archer can continue to fire arrows. When we’re looking at creating the AI for combat, we do think about all those things. And it takes a long time to get all that sort of stuff right. We had these really interesting bugs where the archers would always try and back up behind cover, but in a massive open-world game, cover is miles away, right. So you’d be chasing these archers all over the place, and so this is why we spend a lot of time on AI, to get it feeling right and balanced and believable, yet still have it be controllable enough to be entertaining. So when you run up against, say, you’ve seen some wolves that have attached some archers, everyone’s behaving realistically, and then you become a third aspect to that combat encounter, everyone doing what they need to be doing.

AusGamers: And then you throw in a dragon, then the shit hits the fan.

Cameron: The shit really does hit the fan. I’ve seen a giant and a dragon fight.

AusGamers: How did that play out?

Cameron: The dragon won. I think the giant was throwing boulders at the dragon, then the dragon was spitting fire at the giant. It was pretty cool. It was for a demo, so I knew where I was running, generally, to go and see the giant. There was a dragon, I knew, not far away, but I’d never seen them actually engage, and I ran up there in the demo and went, ‘Oh, shit! Well, we’ll just keep going.’

AusGamers: Just going back to AI, do you find that the ability to freeze combat whenever you want almost nullifies the idea of having super-smart AI, because players can get their three buddies to attack whoever’s at the back, and the player can then focus on whoever they want to, so they won’t even notice what’s going on behind the scenes?

Cameron: Yeah, not really, for us, because our AI is pretty smart. These days, what they’ll do is try to counter whatever strategy you can place. If I started to lay down fire traps and things like that, they’re going to try and path around it, or you might, for example, send one of your archers up to a high vantage point, so they’re going to send a warrior up to that high vantage point, so there are different things that the AI will do. They’ll react to things, and they’ll try and counter your strategies, which is pretty cool.

AusGamers: Is it possible to play through the entire game in real-time, or is that something that’s really advised against, or would become almost impossible, especially when you’re involved in a multi-tiered approach to the dragon fights where you’re attacking specific parts of the body?

Cameron: You could absolutely do it. So the approach that we’re taking to the whole games development and production is very much about this concept of play your way. So we’ll give you a massive world with all these different factions and characters and environments and stories in it, and then we give you the tools like real-time combat, or tactical combat, we give you all these different classes and races, and all sorts of stuff. Then it’s up to the player about how they want to play through it, so someone could absolutely play it through all action, they could play it through all tactical, if they wanted, or a mix of both. We’ve gotten to the point now where, for us anyway, as developers, for when we play it, we swap in and out of tactical and action really smoothly and really easily. You saw it a little bit in some of that [stage] demo. You’ll notice it went in and out, sometimes you’ll plan more elaborate moves, sometimes you’ll just do a quick thing, because it’s so quick now to do it. So that’s generally how we tend to play, but players, different players play different ways, and that’s why we’ll give you the tools and you can do what you want.

AusGamers: I find that games nowadays rarely seem to be single genre. So, every shooter you’re looking at nowadays has RPG mechanics, as a given. But when you go over to the RPG world, it’s a bit more difficult to find those obvious links to other genres, I mean, outside of the idea of an action-RPG. What sort of other genres or games specifically outside of the RPG realm are you looking to, and how will we see that evidenced in Inquisition?

Cameron: Great question, and putting me on the spot when I’m really tired.

AusGamers: You’re welcome.

Cameron: Influence comes in from all kinds of places. It could be movies: our art director is a big fan of Japanese movies and Renaissance art, so you get influence everywhere, and that’s just from the art side of things. From a game-design point of view, they could be, I’m trying to think, like operations at the war table, there are many games that have done this concept of, I have people working for me and I’m going to use this UI to order them to do things. And so when you look at that and you go, okay, well we have this big organisation that we lead, how do we lead them? And then how do we make it immersive, how do we make it part of the game world? Then you start thinking about, okay, what if you really were a commander and you had a war table, you could imagine, generals would have in medieval times, and then what would that mean? Okay, I can now order my people out, and then you start linking it back into other systems that you have, and that’s really where the iteration and the development comes from. So, for example, as a leader of the Inquisition, you can judge people. You have a throne, right? And you can sit on the throne and you can judge people, and a number of those judgements can actually lead to you making people serve you as an agent, so you judge them and say, ‘I’m not going to cut your head off, but you’re going to come work for me now.’ So they become agents, and by getting agents, you speed up or enhance some of the operations you can do at the war table, so all of these things link together in that way. We look at this influence in a variety of different ways. Sometimes, you’ll be sitting there at night playing a game, or sitting there in bed and go, ‘Shit, that was really cool fun,’ and then you start to follow it through and it takes on a life of its own now.

AusGamers: Cool. Thank you very much.

Cameron: You’re welcome.

Read more about Dragon Age: Inquisition on the game page - we've got the latest news, screenshots, videos, and more!

Latest Comments
Posted 11:37pm 21/8/14
Interesting. The worst thing I find in RPGs, especially Deus Ex, is that I really want to explore every nook and cranny sometimes, and if there is a timer or critical aspect that progresses the story and you can't go back, that itch just doesn't get scratched. His explanation for the story sounds complex, but if done right I think I would prefer it
Posted 08:07am 22/8/14
Well it certainly sounds like hey are doing a much, much better job than Dragon Age 2.

In my mind this game and The Witcher 3 are going head to head, in which case I'm putting my bets down on The Witcher 3. Part of that is because every time I think of dragon age, the bitter taste of DA2 is still remembered. Hopefully Cameron and friends can break that curse and bring us a classic.

Posted 09:10am 22/8/14
Yeah I did not enjoy the last 2 dragon age games, they had potential but in the end I lost interest very quickly in both of them (more so the 2nd then the first).

From what i've seen of the third it looks promising, but I almost couldn't be f***ed playing it on the basis that I haven't heavily followed the first 2 enough to know whats going on in the story or the lore of the land.
Posted 12:19am 23/8/14
Does it have Co-op? If so It will be a game I get on release.

If not I cant really see a point in it for myself. I really dont enjoy singleplayer games much anymore - they just dont have any longevity for me. Like everything in life - its better with other people.
Posted 01:26am 23/8/14
I'm the opposite, I find myself enjoying single player games more these days and multiplayer games less. I'm enjoying games more for the stories they tell these days, since multiplayer inevitably means playing online with a bunch of tosspots, which just sucks the fun out of a game for me.

On topic though, I'm pretty sure Dragon Age doesn't do multiplayer, its always been a purely single player experience. If this one does have multiplayer it'd be an additional game mode of some kind, like the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer was.
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