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Default Game Informer Interview with Bioware

November 27th, 2016, 04:02
Now this is an interesting thread ( from neogaf) in coming GI issue that briefly summarized some of key points on "behind the scenes" of each game and their history.
( Quite a few things I didn't know until now)

BioWare's origins:
- BioWare = "software for humans"
- Started building medical education software.
- Began in Greg Zeschuk's basement.
- Didn't take salaries for five years, working as doctors to make ends meet.
- Conceptualised Shattered Steel and Battleground Infinity.
- Cold called their list of "top ten publishers" over and over until someone would finally look at something.
- Nine of the ten publishers made offers, namely on Shattered Steel.
- Battleground Infinity was an RPG/RTS hybrid based around different gods. Helped leverage securing the ability to make Baldur's Gate.

Baldur's Gate:
- Considered it an RTS/RPG hybrid, influenced by stuff like Command & Conquer and Warcraft II.
- Jagged Alliance influenced the way characters react to things.
- Missed its original Christmas period release, publisher was worried about further investment believing both RPGs and Dungeons and Dragons weren't major genre/brands any more.
- Sales forecast was 70,000 units in the USA, 0 in Europe.
- CompUSA (retailer) had little interest in the game.
- Believe Diablo and Baldur's Gate, both launching around the same time, helped revive some faith in RPGs.
- CompUSA would later call up Brian Fargo and beg for units at no cost to BioWare/publisher, as they had ordered zero. The buyer requesting was later fired.
- Took awhile for the impact of success to be apparent.

Baldur's Gate II:
- Targeted improving user interface, graphical resolution, and tighten the story.
- Almost no engine changes between the two games. Focused mainly in design improvement.
- Were told that Final Fantasy VII had better developed characters than Baldur's Gate, spurring a lot of effort to improve character development, interaction, romances, etc in Baldur's Gate II.
- Felt very competitive with SquareSoft.
- The big challenge was writing compelling interactions and developments for characters relative to the main character that could in theory be any race/gender/background, versus established characters in stuff like Final Fantasy VII.
- Continued adding content right up until the end.

Neverwinter Nights:
- Vision for project was clear, but development very challenging and complicated.
- Wanted to fully capture the essence of Dungeons & Dragons, namely user developed and shared content.
- Interplay's issues impacted development. At the time no-one had been paid royalties from Baldur's Gate II.
- Constant negotiations between publishers to help finance the title.
- Admit that since Neverwinter Nights BioWare has shifted more towards story and away from user generated content. Wish they'd pushed a bit harder in the latter direction, but time/resources shaped direction.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic:
- Were in talks to do an X-Men RPG, Lord of the Rings game, and other major licenses at the time.
- LucasArts suggested doing something set between the movies, but BioWare wanted more creative freedom.
- Once locked in rarely felt constricted by LucasArts in creative freedoms.
- Aimed to make a more cinematic experience than Baldur's Gate, akin to the movies.
- The Sixth Sense and Fight Club influenced the twist.
- Never expected the twist to be as well received as it was, as the internal team reaction was lukewarm.

Jade Empire:
- Wanted to create a setting unique and fresh from science fiction and fantasy.
- Influenced by Legend of the Five Rings and many Kung Fu movies.
- Had been discussed as a potential setting dating back to Baldur's Gate.
- Demo was built in Baldur's Gate engine around that era.
- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon made them feel they were on the right path.
- Had trouble communicating their real time combat game systems as it was not a language they were used to.
- Took so long to develop due to it starting as a blank slate. Feel it was a transition from old-school RPGs to new-school RPGs.
- Rough development, feel a lot of content didn't work out as well as it could, complex character stories hidden that they feel most players probably didn't discover.
- Retrospectively would have liked to delay it for polish and improvement and have it become an Xbox 360 launch game.
- Jade Empire 2 was being conceptualised / worked on, but shut down due to development difficulties and issues at the studio, namely having too many projects going at once (five projects in addition to Mass Effect and Dragon Age). Studio needed to focus on more specific projects.

EA Acquisition:
- Talks with publishers for acquisition/partnerships began being taken seriously around 2005, mainly because BioWare needed the capital to build their vision of an MMORPG.
- Got an offer from EA that they "couldn't refuse".
- Offer was very open and allowed for creative freedom along with staff security. Wanted to expand the business, have greater global reach, and offer more benefits to staff.
- A lot of concern, nervousness, and scepticism from staff due to EA's reputation of acquiring and closing developers.
- EA had adopted a city-state business model where studios operated relatively independent of each other, and stated they'd leave BioWare alone.
- EA were upfront with knowing of their reputation and the worry staff have.

Star Wars: The Old Republic:
- BioWare began pursuing an MMORPG dating back to 2005.
- Felt it was a logical next-step in evolving their RPG design, influenced by other successful MMORPGs, but well aware of the risks and difficulties.
- Pitches included MMORPGs based on Dragon Age, Game of Thrones, and The Dark Tower. Considered a "The Silmarillion" MMORPG. Christopher Tolkien wouldn't take their calls.
- Star Wars was the logical franchise to reach a large audience.
- Recognise the endgame was a little thin. Wanted to encourage replaying multiple paths.
- Realised they had to build more content and quickly, because you can't compare your launch to the launch of other MMORPGs, but instead the quantity of content they have now after their updates.
- Didn't launch as the success they wanted. Doing very well now.

Mass Effect:
- Was always pitched as a trilogy, a space opera, something that couldn't be covered in one game.
- Wanted to adult-up BioWare's usual game style, tackling more complex themes, emotions, and moments.
- Knew the three game arc would revolve around Shepard's escalating conflict with the Reapers, and that the ultimate endgame would be the showdown you see in Mass Effect 3.
- Announcing it as a trilogy was to garner attention and paint a picture of fans and BioWare being in it for the long haul.
- Microsoft were concerned it was "too much like Halo".
- Combat system was completely changed two months before shipping. Many other aggressive changes, like the interface that wasn't working two-three months before launch.
- Microsoft's usability labs were very useful for real-world player feedback.

Mass Effect 2:
- Were committed from the start to not just reuse the same mechanics for all three games. Always open to doing things better.
- Based on feedback targeted better combat (as cover shooter combat was becoming popularised), and more updated technology.

Mass Effect 3:
- Oblivious to the criticism of the ending as it was being developed, and just after launch, due to critical acclaim. Suddenly a wave of criticism.
- Considered numerous facets of the game as part of the "ending", but realise people weigh on the last 30 seconds or so.
- Feel that because the whole game is about making choices and controlling the character, losing that agency damages the premise, and that was a fundamental issue with the ending more than just the dialogue. People want to pick their own ending.
- Were only just getting used to social media, had issue handling the ending criticism being a hot topic.
- A lot of support from other developers for BioWare's accomplishments in seeing the game through, but some of that support turned against them when they announced the Extended Cut would patch in extra content.
- Clarified they were not aiming to add a new ending or anything like that, but instead add clarity, as feedback from fans was that they wanted to know more as to what happened.

Dragon Age:
- Went through a lot of changes as people were working on its concept dating back to when Neverwinter Nights shipped.
- Was a multiplayer game, then single player, then back and forth again, PC only, then consoles.
- Took a long time to develop due to building an engine alongside broad ambition.
- Development issues. People in the team pulling the game in different directions, right down to the type of game it is, engine, etc. Become more about people implementing their own individual things. Required focus.
- Probably oversold the Grey Warden in marketing.

Dragon Age II:
- Start to finish development took about 14 months.
- Were working on the concept that would later become Dragon Age: Inquisition at the time, but were asked to turn it around quicker in part due to The Old Republic not doing as well as expected.
- Wanted to tell a more personal story, even if it was a departure from BioWare norm.
- Feel the biggest mistake was reusing environments and pretending that they were different. Poorly handled asset and area reuse, trying to pass off copies as new places. Consider it a very valid criticism.
- Admit they tried to streamline it too far, in part to meet the tight production timeline. Failed to deliver on variety, a strong plot and premise. Over focus on action in the new combat system.
- Weren't entirely sure it should be called Dragon Age II, and actually had the working title Dragon Age: Exodus.

Doctors Leaving BioWare
- Consider development on Mass Effect 3 melancholic as they were questioning how long they wanted to continue in the industry.
- Ending controversy had no influence on their departure. Felt they had accomplished what they needed to over the 20 years.
- Felt confident that senior staff could take the studio reigns.

Dragon Age: Inquisition:
- A lot of "soul searching" based on lessons learned from Dragon Age II.
- "Dragon Age II definitely had lasting psychic scars on the Dragon Age team."
- Wasn't simple moving over to Frostbite and knowing the game had to launch on five platforms.
- Felt enormous pressure due to both the poor reception of Dragon Age II and Inquisition being the first game without Ray and Greg's involvement at the studio.
- Looked at the trajectory of BioWare games from Baldur's Gate and felt they had gotten smaller and tighter. Wanted to go back to exploration emphasis.
- Admit exploration was not perfectly implemented and there are a lot of lessons to be learned from games that came after.
- Feel good that their games now reassert an aspect of world exploration, instead of regressing to "a budget version of Uncharted".
- Never wanted to make a Skyrim-clone, with one big open world. Still wanted to push rich story elements to live up to the franchise name.
- Most successful game launch at BioWare.
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November 28th, 2016, 16:10
So much data, yet no word on Bioware Points scam. Here's hope the next interviewer won't miss to ask about the most important decision.
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November 28th, 2016, 16:25
Originally Posted by joxer View Post
So much data, yet no word on Bioware Points scam. Here's hope the next interviewer won't miss to ask about the most important decision.
They already ditched it with Dragon Age Inquisition.
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November 28th, 2016, 16:45
Yup - the "history" lessons avoid mentioning both adding and removing.
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November 29th, 2016, 11:28
Very interesting read, thanks.
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