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Default Dragon Age 2 - David Gaider Interview @ Gamasutra

August 2nd, 2011, 00:02
Gamasutra has a late interview with David Gaider on the process of writing for Dragon Age 2:
It was Laidlaw who first proposed the new game concept. His idea was this: instead of telling a linear, he suggested they modify the structure on a high level and jump between the major moments of a character's life. Instead of telling a story over a short span of time in a wide open world, they would set the game within a single city, and jump through an epic ten-year period. This would be accomplished with the help of a framing device, allowing for the time jumps to be implemented as flashbacks.
"[The new approach] definitely allowed us some unique opportunities," Gaider says. "Sometimes the lack of an ability to hand-wave time passing means we end up with a lot of events happening in an unrealistically short span, or repercussions for a player's actions that either need to occur instantly or be relegated to the epilogue. So this offered us the chance to give a sense of greater scope."
However, there were also unknowns. What would it feel like to play a game where you don't see time's gradual passage? Would jumping through time break narrative unity and pull the player out of the story? And how would this work from an implementation standpoint? Would creative resources get bogged down trying to account for the long-term impact of minor decisions that the player made five years ago in game time?
More information.
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August 2nd, 2011, 00:02
Would creative resources get bogged down trying to account for the long-term impact of minor decisions that the player made five years ago in game time?
I guess we'll never know the answer to that since it seems like they didn't bother trying.

Also, the article conveniently sidesteps the criticism of the game stating that while it was hailed by critics as "setting a new bar in RPG storytelling", the player critiques centered around gameplay issues which are outside the scope of the article.
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August 2nd, 2011, 00:19
You could replace the time jumps with "two weeks later" and it would make zero difference. The time jumps are pointless. Actually in several cases they outright do not make sense.
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August 2nd, 2011, 01:24
Originally Posted by DoctorNarrative View Post
You could replace the time jumps with "two weeks later" and it would make zero difference. The time jumps are pointless. Actually in several cases they outright do not make sense.
Agreed the time jumps in DA2 were mostly just cosmetic to jump the story along. They should have stuck to the old formula.

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August 2nd, 2011, 08:50
Instead of having the Baldur's Gate/DA:O-style 2D-cutscenes in the jumps they should have rather shown a montage of Hawke and his/her companions doing stuff. Also, there should be more visual changes - characters getting older, changes in hairstyle (including an option to change Hawkes hairstyle), changes in the city etc. I can't believe that Bioware dedicated itself to this type of storytelling but did not include such changes. The way the time jumps are done push me away from the character every time.

Yes, there are gameplay issues which are more severe. But for a company that focuses so much on characters and storytelling, DAII is shocking.
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August 2nd, 2011, 09:08
Originally Posted by Grandor Dragon View Post
…Also, there should be more visual changes - characters getting older, changes in hairstyle (including an option to change Hawkes hairstyle), changes in the city etc. I can't believe that Bioware dedicated itself to this type of storytelling but did not include such changes. The way the time jumps are done push me away from the character every time.

Yes, there are gameplay issues which are more severe. But for a company that focuses so much on characters and storytelling, DAII is shocking.
All good points. I think that the concept of DA2's story-telling, as described here: "…instead of telling a linear (story), he suggested they modify the structure on a high level and jump between the major moments of a character's life. Instead of telling a story over a short span of time in a wide open world, they would set the game within a single city, and jump through an epic ten-year period…" is very good on paper. Say what you will about the gameplay (which I personally thought was quite mediocre), this concept for telling a story could have been quite remarkable. I could have begrudgingly enjoyed DA2 despite my issues with the core gameplay if they had gotten the story and characters right (Jade Empire is an example of a dumbed down, mediocre game that I still mostly enjoyed thanks to its solid story and superb atmosphere), but they completely failed to make the changes in time meaningful in any way. It's actually quite shocking how little effort was put into this aspect, from characters not aging, the city remaining eerily static over ten years, no choice and consequence, etc, and yet the story still managed to be disjointed and aimless.
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August 2nd, 2011, 10:31
To be honest, I think the jumping narrative structure was much more plausibly and effectively handled in Alpha Protocol than what it was in DA2. Interesting that it doesn't get a mention in the article as a plot device, for the similarities are there to be found. Perhaps Laidlaw took inspiration for the concept from Obsidian? Just a thought.

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August 2nd, 2011, 11:41
The only problem I had with the framed narrative of Alpha Protocol was that I had to decide how to treat my interrogator on the narrative level even in the beginning when I (as a player) had no background on him. That was a bit strange.
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August 2nd, 2011, 11:56
The thing about doing something "new" is that you need a better reason than it being new to do it.

I guess they must have missed this, somehow.

Then again, I never quite understood the appeal of telling stories in a non-linear way. I mean, when Tarantino made it popular with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction - it was kinda novel and "cute" - but I don't think it has ever made a positive difference to me in any movie.

I most definitely prefer a linear narrative - or one that's easy to follow. If it has to be non-linear, then at least make it apparent why you're doing it.

If it's to "stand out" and be "cool" - then you're not doing it right, frankly.
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August 2nd, 2011, 13:44
Originally Posted by Grandor Dragon View Post
The only problem I had with the framed narrative of Alpha Protocol was that I had to decide how to treat my interrogator on the narrative level even in the beginning when I (as a player) had no background on him. That was a bit strange.
Yes, I know what you mean. For me, this added an element of tension in responding to the interrogation without any real context - apart from the tone and what was actually being said. I remember thinking that if you wanted to give the player the feeling of what it might be like to be captured and drugged, without any real sense of where you are or who you were speaking to, then this was one possible and interesting way to do it. Overall, I think it worked reasonably well.

@ DArt
I think part of the appeal simply comes from experimenting with a non-conventional narrative structure and attempting to deliver a story in different way. It's not necessarily new at all, but it is different and relatively rare in comparison to what is the standard.

Whilst his films are certainly an acquired taste, I think some of the work by director David Lynch is a good example of someone who experiments interestingly with narrative structure (think Mulholland Drive and maybe Lost Highway). Tarrantino isn't the only director to make it more mainstream.

As another analogy: Consider the bands (especially in the post-rock genre at the moment) who create music which refuses to conform to the classical verse, chorus, verse format.

It's the search to convey meaning or story in different ways. But I agree with you in that it should be approached with good reason and and an overall arching design, rather than simply done to be cool. Make it matter to the player.

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August 2nd, 2011, 14:35
I feel the idea itself is definitely interesting - seeing changes over time, experiencing entire an entire decade instead of just a few weeks or months. However, the execution did not deliver at all, it seems BioWare simply lacked the time/resources to pull it off. With more significant changes between the chapters, it could've been very entertaining.
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August 2nd, 2011, 19:50
Originally Posted by DArtagnan View Post
If it's to "stand out" and be "cool" - then you're not doing it right, frankly.
I think you're right. In reading the article David Gaider does seem to talk a lot about how he and Mike Laidlaw wanted to do something "different", and to make something "dark" and "gritty". That makes me cringe honestly. Don't try so hard to be cool and edgy, just tell a good story if you're doing a story game and have real consequences if you are doing choice and consequence. Likewise if you are doing time jumps then there needs to be a reason and noticeable changes otherwise don't bother.

In reading the article, I get the impression they went 'Hey I got an idea. Let's do this framed narrative and jump in time' and then filled in the blanks instead of saying 'We've got this story with a lot events going on in a short span. Maybe we could jump ahead in time and spread some of it out to make it more believable'. There's a huge difference.

Mike 'When you push a button something awesome has to happen' Laidlaw to my observation based on reading and hearing from him is all about the whiz bang flash and attitude and giving a cool impression (or at least trying to). I don't think he really gets RPGs and would probably be better suited to action games.
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August 2nd, 2011, 20:27
Originally Posted by Maylander View Post
I feel the idea itself is definitely interesting - seeing changes over time, experiencing entire an entire decade instead of just a few weeks or months. However, the execution did not deliver at all, it seems BioWare simply lacked the time/resources to pull it off. With more significant changes between the chapters, it could've been very entertaining.
Yep, had they changed things up a bit it would have helped. You visited the same places and saw the same people over and over again, meanwhile decades have supposedly passed and everything looks the exact same! At least change some appearances or scenery or something, ten years can change a lot.
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August 2nd, 2011, 21:32
Defending them, one could say : "This is the Narrative ! The Narrator doesn't remember any differences anymore !

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August 3rd, 2011, 09:24
My sense is that they knew they were working under pressure, and that the development cycle would be short.

They probably needed "something" as artists to make it all seem worthwhile, and to somehow - magically - make a game that CAN'T be particularly great (you just can't make a Dragon Age in such a short time) - into something special.

I think the idea was ok, but I don't think it was from the heart. It was just a way to keep it fresh for themselves.

I actually have no way of knowing any of this, but that's the gist I get from bits and pieces of how they've approached development of this game.

I just hope the game didn't sell quite enough to make these cycles seem worthwhile. If they come out with Dragon Age 3 in a year - then we know they haven't learned their lesson.
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August 3rd, 2011, 10:43
We all know the next game will probably be out in the next 1-2 years. They have to sell more DA2 dlc and maybe an expansion. That I wouldn't mind if it adds another city or more content than dlc.

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