Dragon Age: Origins had a booth at the Penny Arcade Expo, and BioWare’s co-founded Dr. Greg Zeschuk was on hand to discuss the game, which is set to release on PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 later this year. We chatted him up a bit to get some information on the characterization, customization and replayability of Dragon Age, as well as a little bit of insight on what version of the game may suit your gaming needs best.
BLAST: One of the most interesting things about Dragon Age: Origins are the changes to the story”"even major characters can be killed off or you can fail to recruit them, for example. How big are the changes you see in the story when this kind of thing occurs?
Dr. Greg Zeschuk: One of the interesting things in Dragon Age is that the characters have their own motivations. What we watch during the game is not whether you are good or are you bad, but instead how are the characters reacting to you. There are impactful things you can do, as well as your everyday choices. The range of things the characters can do is pretty stunning”"I remember one time, I had one really impatient guy. One cool thing is that the characters will talk to you, just as you are walking along, saying things like, “What are we doing?” and “We’re going the wrong way”. So this guy kept complaining, and eventually he said, “That’s it”, so I turned around and he attacked me. I literally had this full battle while the other guys just stood back and watched it”"and he was actually a really tough character in my group, so I had to try and figure out a way to beat him before he could kill me. That’s an extreme example; other examples are you could meet a new character, but they have an instant dislike for you, or you could have a character say, “If they are joining you, then I’m leaving”. It really depends on the way you play your game; if you’re really evil or brutal, some characters may leave you, attack you, or they will split up and have a big battle with each other. It feels like a very realistic situation, where your friends like you so they will do what you tell better. I think that’s one of the key things in the game, so when you’re making decisions, you’re always thinking, “Okay, what will they think of it?” You can also build the group you’re traveling with based on their orientation.
BLAST: Because of all of these changes with the characters and your party, length of the game and replayability are a big factor. How many hours do you think you can squeeze out of Dragon Age: Origins?
DGZ: I would say the minimum you’ll get out of a single-player game is probably about 40 hours. The actual amount of content is amazing”"there are some quests that, unless you built up your character a certain way or picked a certain origin, they won’t even open up. I’ve heard of people doing a single playthrough with over 100 hours, so it’s probably more than that. It’s giant. One of the really interesting things about it though, is that you can play in a very bite-sized way, it’s not just one long level where you save and load. I can see playing single player for six months, playing a half-hour per night, clearing out a dungeon or finishing a quest. In these financial times, it’s a critical value. It’s almost like an MMO, where you can play it and play it and play it and always find new things. Even here, I was talking to some guys from Mythic and telling them about a character, and they were saying, “Oh, I have to play it again!” All of these things make it very personal and unique.
BLAST: Tell us a little about the skill tree that you use to customize the characters.
DGZ: There are a couple of different ways”"there are Talents, which are a combat ability you can use, there are also some skills outside of battle, like for potions and poisons and traps, those kinds of things. Every character, like the rogue, warrior and mage, come with a certain set of base rules; there are quite a few of them. And within them, there are different sub-trees, like a rogue could be a two weapon wielding backstabber and an archer. What you unlock as you play are these specializations, which come from quests you do and items you find; those give you a whole other set of powers. You can also customize your character to a very narrow line, depending on what it is you want to do. What that allows is for everyone’s character to be completely unique”"you won’t be able to get all the Talents in a single playthrough”"but what’s great is that it’s not just your own character, you can customize your entire party. You can decide how you’re going to build your party, decide how you’re going to customize them. There’s another side to that too, where there are recommended choices, so people don’t have to be overwhelmed it. It’s a game where it’s very hard to make a bad choice”"you can’t pick a Talent that sucks, they are all pretty good, you just have to figure out how to use them.
BLAST: So you can customize your party and try out all different kinds of characters and abilities?
DGZ: You could get three mages, customize them, and every one of those mages could be completely different. One could be using curses and entropy, one could be healing, and one could be primal, like fire and lightning spells. Beyond that, you can further customize in the specializations and other stuff, so there are probably seven or eight different kinds of mages you could make; it’s the same with warriors and rogues. There’s a lot of choice! We anticipate people will replay it, and say things like, “Well this is the best warrior I’ve found” and compare with each other. That’s kind of one of the things you can do on the community website; it allows you to share, which kind of goes by achievements by letting you show what you did and how you did it. So people can look at each other’s progress and see, “Oh, this is how you did that!” and compare and contrast their experiences.
BLAST: The game is multiplatform, as its on both consoles and on PC”"are there any major differences between PC and console?
DGZ: It’s interesting, but the PC version, which we developed a little bit earlier, is radically different. We redid the entire interface for the console version; we had all of these incredible Talents and powers on the PC version, and we wanted to make sure console players didn’t feel like we were stripping away any of the power. You also had to make sure they had everything at their fingertips, and that was a huge, huge undertaking. Trying to give console players the opportunity to switch between 20 different spells at any time is how we got the ring structure, which, after playing with it on a console, feels very natural. Another thing on consoles that is very interesting, after playing around with balancing and the creatures, is that it’s actually much more of an action game, whereas on the PC its more natural to pull back, look at the whole battlefield, and have kind of a chess game feel to it. On the console, I think people are just going to jump right in there”"everyone here is playing console today, and when you go in there, there’s a very action-oriented feel, and that really plays well to each audience. Console guys want to get right in there, while PC guys want to be more strategic.
Didn’t the Ring Interface start out in NwN?
The interface in Neverwinter Nights was called the “radial menu”. The ring interface in Dragon Age is supposed to be similar to the interface in Mass Effect, another, more recent, Bioware RPG.