Dragon Age: Inquisition interview - How has Frostbite changed Bioware's approach to development?

by Gaetano Prestia 2 Comments 21 Likes 4,478 Views 19/08/2014 Back to PS4 articles Dragon Age: Inquisition

Bioware's first full release since 2012's Mass Effect 3 brings with it the expectation of redemption.

The developer's first foray using the Frostbite engine, and its first true open-world RPG, could reignite interest in the Dragon Age series, which hasn't seen a release since 2011's Dragon Age II.

Coming to all major consoles (excluding Wii U, including PS4 and Xbox One), the game will hopefully be a good introduction to the new generation for the acclaimed developer.

MMGN sat down with producer Cameron Lee at Gamescom to talk briefly about the evolution of the genre, working with Frostbite, and that ending.

MMGN: BioWare has been working on the Dragon Age series for a decade now, I think the first game was announced in 2004?

Cameron Lee: Yeah.

MMGN: How have fan expectations changed for the genre? Do you find yourself trying to appease a different audience now than you were with the first Dragon Age?

Cameron Lee: Wow. It’s changed a lot. One of the most important aspects that’s changed is that there’s a broader expectation of what gamers want. Some players want really niche aspects of RPGs, some want action orientated RPGs, some want customisation. What we’ve definitely seen is the scope of what someone wants is very different compared to the days of the Gold Box series. It’s like, ‘Just give me an RPG!’ and we knew what they wanted. I think that these days, RPG means different things for different people.

MMGN: Bioware has been vocal saying this is the biggest Dragon Age yet. Has working with the Frostbite engine permitted you the flexibility to enhance the scope in the way you have?

Cameron Lee: Definitely. In order to do something with what we’re doing with Inquisition, the scope of it, the depth of it, it wouldn't have been possible on the previous engine. Like the Eclipse Engine, and Unreal and stuff like that.

MMGN: And it made creating your first true open-world game easier then?

Cameron Lee: Maybe. It’s just that, having these multiple open regions that let you explore these different environments and themes, this open traversal, open worlds, destruction, and all the creatures, and to bring that into a game like that? It just wouldn’t have been possible without Frostbite. So the engine, the lighting for example is absolutely gorgeous, which is one of the most powerful things about it, but we’ve spent a bit of time building upon the core Frostbite engine, which was obviously made as a shooter engine, so we’ve had to build a lot of stuff.

MMGN: What has it allowed you to do that you couldn’t previously with other engines?

Cameron Lee: The concept of save games didn’t exist, at least as Bioware knows them. The tactical camera, just being able to pause a game and still work within it, Frostbite didn’t have that, it had no concept of that. We’ve had to add all of these things to it over the course of our development over the last four years.

MMGN: Has it been an easy engine to work with? Did you find the team having to tweak a lot of it to achieve what you now had the flexibility to create?

Cameron Lee: There are so many tweaks, over so much time. We started with a really solid foundation of the engine but we had to build a lot around it.

MMGN: So it was a different approach to what, say, DICE had?

Cameron Lee: Definitely. Particularly with how we tell stories, how our writers work. It’s all very different to how DICE works. We built all of these different tools for the engine. I think it’s paid off, because at this point we’ve reached a point where we’re really productive, spending time polishing and stuff like that, because everything is basically done. It’s because we’ve spent so much time with it and worked to develop for it.

MMGN: You just mentioned story: Bioware is certainly in a league of its own with how it tells a story. You offer such a broad, unique experience, and it must be hard enough to create a narrative for one character, but is it a different approach for an open-world game like this compared to, say, Mass Effect?

Cameron Lee: The characters themselves are all individual with different personalities. You have the Inquisitor and then their sidekicks. There are nine of them, you choose three. What they like, what they don’t like, and how they want to interact with you in the world is very different from character to character.

MMGN: But what I’m curious about is how you branch out the story in what is really a less linear experience. It’s unlike Mass Effect in that way: you can still drive the narrative, but you’re going at your own pace in a completely open-world.

Cameron Lee: The normal Dragon Age experience … well, actually, the normal Bioware experience would be, you would have a critical path and a series of plots that you play through. In Inquisition we still have the critical path plots, and there’s still a lot of branching decisions that are exclusive to some of the decisions you make, but then on top of that you have these massive open-world regions you can explore.

MMGN: Okay … and how do you even begin to combine that with the game’s approach to combat and pacing?

Cameron Lee: Because you command the Inquisition, this big organisation, you have the war table that’s like a glue you start to merge with the story with the open-world exploration. So, you can decide that you want to go and explore a certain part of the story now, or venture in this new area. It’s up to you, compared to previous games, where it would be like, ‘This is where you go now!’ The next step for us and with Inquisition was to give you the freedom to explore and evolve the story in a different way compared to past Bioware games. From a combat perspective, the characters follow architect classes. They may be a warrior, or a mage. They do have special abilities that are unique enough. You can swap the weapons out of the characters, but there are certainly architectural elements to the combat and how they work. The skill tree obviously adds an element of customisation as I mentioned before about shaping them the way you want them to play.

MMGN: I want to talk briefly about Mass Effect 3 and its ending. Obviously there was a lot of controversy surrounding it, and the feedback from the community was split. Has the response to the ending changed the way Bioware tells stories?

Cameron Lee: The controversy about Mass Effect’s ending was just that: it was about the ending. The fundamentals of how Bioware has been writing stories across many games for many years fundamentally hasn’t changed.

MMGN: There was certainly a big response, however you look at it ...

Cameron Lee: We did certainly look at feedback from Mass Effect’s ending, as we do with all games. We were very aware of fans’ reactions to the ending, and we were very positive ourselves about not doing something that would have similar impacts in Inquisition.

MMGN: Well, thanks for your time, enjoy the rest of Gamescom, and good luck with the launch!

Cameron Lee: Thank you.

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Dragon Age: Inquisition interview - How has Frostbite changed Bioware's approach to development? Comments

  • Tyrus 59334 XP 19/08/2014
    Great interview Tano. I'm so hyped for Dragon Age: Inquisition it's not funny, been replaying Origins in anticipation!
  • Tano 358600 XP 19/08/2014

    @Tyrus said: Great interview Tano. I'm so hyped for Dragon Age: Inquisition it's not funny, been replaying Origins in anticipation!

    Played it quite a bit at Gamescom...well, an hour's worth, but it's hard to get a grasp of the game in such a short period. I mean, going around for an hour just slicing and dicing beasts on the way to an objective is not a good way to get an idea of how the game is.

    I wanted to go hands on with the war table but couldn't. But there seems to be enough variety on the table there.
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