What were the most important lessons you learned while at Bioware, and how do they still apply?
AT: BioWare in particular was interesting because the scope of The Old Republic was so huge it was like nothing else we've ever worked on. The number of moving parts and moving targets involved in making something like that so complex that you can't help but absorb some really invaluable experience on both the best way to do some things and how not to do others. We learned how to do a lot of very specific things, like writing branching dialogue, and we know a lot about things you wouldn't necessarily think about, like scheduling and managing scope. Overall though, the most important (and hardest to describe) part of producing a game is an almost intangible appreciation for how every part of development has to come together to create a bigger picture. Pacing, mood and flow are all incredibly difficult things to nail and it takes a lot of error to finally get it right.
What are the inspirations behind The Banner Saga's art style and story?
AT: One of our major goals for The Banner Saga was the opportunity to do a mature game for adults in the vein of Game of Thrones or The Black Company. The disclaimer here is that we're not making a story based on either of these, just that we love the tone and that's the feeling we want to have in our story. When we say it's a mature story we want the player to understand it's about cultural intrigue and the relationships between the characters, not sex, swearing and violence. It's also not about high fantasy and dragons and magic weapons, and it's not about black and white, good versus evil. It really is a story written for thoughtful adults, and we hope players will find that refreshing.
The game's description says the player will be able to "make decisions with real consequences." What kind of choices and consequences are you aiming for? Will they go deeper than Bioware's typical consequences that may affect the way the story is presented, but do not have any significant effect on the gameplay or the game world, and in what ways? Could you share some examples with us?
AT: Absolutely, I'd love to talk about this and oddly enough this is the first interview where it has explicitly come up. One thing we know as developers from BioWare is how expensive it can be to create real choices in dialogue and in the story. Just one branch can double the content you create and only half the audience will see it, so it becomes extremely expensive.
When we designed The Banner Saga we created it based on this idea of changing the direction of the story. The lynch pin to our plan is that the world is coming into ruin and certain things are going to happen whether you're there to witness it or not. Whether you can change the course of the story depends on our core gameplay. How many people do you save in the caravan? How many fighters are with you when a city is besieged? That may affect whether the combat is just tricky or outright impossible, but the game doesn't end just because you lost or saved a town. You keep going. How do you respond when one of your main characters wants to leave the party? That may change not just your combat team but whether a whole group of people is willing to follow you or not, which later affects what happens at a critical point in the story. By making decisions for not just one character, not just one small party or even one town but an entire society we're really opening up the number of ways the story can change. An ultimately that's what it comes down to- what happens to the people around you, not faceless strangers in a generic kingdom.