Interview

Ray Muzyka on Dragon Age: Origins

We sit down with an RPG legend

I corner Ray Muzyka, co-founder of BioWare, as he is about to jet of to Spain as part of a whirlwind preview tour for new RPG Dragon Age: Origins. The game is billed as a return to Blizzard's roots; the culmination of everything they have learned about the genre. Unsurprising, then, that Ray is in fine fetter despite his exhaustion...

Thanks for chatting with us Ray, I'm sorry your hectic schedule is taking its toll! How important is the idea of 'origins' to your RPG vision?

I think its pretty important. For Dragon Age specifically it's critical. Its a cornerstone of the player's entry point into the world. Your experience will be very different depending upon which origin you picked, and in a way its sort of like BioWare returning to its roots - but with a twist. This is dark, heroic fantasy rather than traditional high fantasy... its more mature, more gritty, and I think players are going to be really excited about it.

Dragon Age is sort of a spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate... how do you choose where to innovate and change, and where to appease hardcore fans; those who still remember the original game so fondly?

Well, that's an interesting question. I don't know exactly! I think we try to make a game that's going to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. That includes some of the core, traditional fans, as well as new fans. We're looking to multi-platform: the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. I think we're not shying away from some of the gameplay mechanics of earlier games, but we're also innovating... evolving... the setting is evolving, the gameplay is evolving. We have pauses in play, we have shoulder cam, tactical views, you can play in real-time... we're really allowing the player to play it the way they want. I think is going to appeal to a very broad audience.

Are non-hardcore players important to you...?

I think we think a lot about the interface; about accessibility. We try to find a way of making it easy to play for as wide an audience as possible. The core player will get that depth; a game like Dragon Age has a lot of depth, it's very rich. The story, tactics, customisation. They go deep.

How do you tell a traditional fantasy story without this side of the experience being derivative?

Well, I would say with Dragon Age we're trying to create a game that will stand out on the IPs setting; it's story which sits alongside that. This is dark heroic fantasy, its more mature, grittier, the story decisions you get to make have consequences which are much more in-keeping with that theme.

In Mass Effect you broached the idea of romance to a greater extent that previous RPGs. Where do you see this side of the genre evolving?

I think you'll see content that's mature, and yet not gratuitous. It will be appropriate for the setting. It will reflect the emotional engagement with the other characters in your party.

Were you happy with how Mass Effect turned out in this regard?

Very much!

Referring to the PC platform briefly, how has this changed since the days of Baldur's Gate?

Has it changed? Yes. A lot. There's a lot more social networking, a lot more online play - social features and multiplayer - and the play patterns have changed. People are playing shorter sessions rather than longer sessions. There are exceptions of course. Its changed on many levels, and of course the technology has advanced.

In the release of Dragon Age on the PC do you worry about piracy, and are the DRM controversies that surrounded Spore also part of your considerations?

Yes, we certainly are. We are going to learn from the lessons of the past, and try and make sure we make something that's as accepted by as many fans as possible. In the end we're only asking to be paid for the work we've created, so it depends... there are ways to do that however that are elegant; fan-friendly. We're always striving to find the best way possible.

What is your approach with the art style for Dragon Age?

Well, I think its all got to be consistent with the heroic fantasy theme. It needs to be gritty... but realistic at the same time. We want players to feel like they could be there; it's a real world.

Is there a deliberate effort to move the game away from titles like World of Warcraft, stylistically?

Yes, I mean, World of Warcraft is more stylised, while Dragon Age is more realistic - in addition to having a style of its own. Are we trying to move away from WoW? I'm not sure if there was a conscious effort, but yeah, there is a difference - we've made different choices. We hope it'll stand out more as a result.

So, you're not too worried about piracy or a DRM-related backlash?

I think we'll do the best job we can and we'll try to learn from the stories of the past. We'll try to find a solution that's going to appeal to the fans, more than ones in the past have... that have upset players of other products. We'll try to avoid those solutions.

Dragon Age is coming to consoles... what are the considerations of these SKUs, versus the PC?

Well, we definitely focus a lot on interface; the controls, usability of the experience. We want everybody, regardless of which platform they play, console or PC, to feel like they're playing the best-tuned version for their system. The best experience for them. We have to make sure nobody feels left behind, they need a great interface, and good usability.

Mass Effect 2 is also in the works... am I right in thinking?

Well, we haven't inferred that we're working on new games in the Mass Effect line directly, although we have spoken about sequels; certainly it would be natural to assume we're working on something - and it'll probably be a sequel!

Is there any cross-over between the two teams... given that they're both working on role-playing games?

Yeah - I mean - developers move back and forth between the teams. We're working on a 'matrix' structure, and people in our Austin team and our Edmonton team move back and forth; its the same for both.

Thanks for your time, Ray.

Thank you.

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