Dragon Age Inquisition interview with Neil Thompson

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Dragon Age Inquisition is the new offering from Bioware in the franchise that has very quickly become a fantasy icon in video gaming. Sean got to sit down at EGX with Bioware’s Director of art and animation, Neil Thompson, and have a few words about it.

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It’s a very interesting art style compared to other Dragon Age games, especially with the Frostbite 3 engine. How did that come about?

Well the interesting answer is the adoption of Frostbite. We did the previous two Dragon Age games on a Bioware engine called Eclipse and I think it’s safe to say it was starting to show its age. We wanted to take Dragon Age Inquisition on to the new hardware and new generation. What does that mean? Well a lush, diverse and complex experience and there’s no reason why that shouldn’t apply to us like everyone else. We’d already seen what Frostbite was capable of with Battlefield and we wanted a piece of that.

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How has that approached how you create the game? Before the previous Dragon Age’s single player experiences very much in the Bioware theme and the characters and now it’s multiplayer and more open.

Multiplayer is one aspect of the game but the single player and multiplayer are still two different things. The single player experience is still an immense priority for us. We wanted to extend that single player experience, larger worlds, and better combat. You don’t allow the paradigm of the hardware or the engine to dictate what we wanted to achieve with the franchise. We wanted push the pillars of Dragon Age with a more open world experience, a larger or more diverse world. That’s what we wanted to use for the game because we felt it would be a better experience for the player.

The advent of the new generation consoles has come along at the right time for you to embellish that as well?

We are on all five consoles with presents a challenge in itself. But the move to the next gen has made the older generation versions better because of it. We try to satisfy the needs of the players across all platforms. We don’t want the last generation console owners to get less of an experience than the other console owners.

The art style has changed, partly because of the Frostbite 3 engine and you’ve been able to put new features in to the game like the tactical view. Tell us a little bit about how that came about.

Well it’s the result, not really of Frostbite option, but between the team and the creative director that they wanted that RPG experience. Origins and many of our games have that dynamic and I think it really enhances the combat. You can play the game with the traditional third person way and its fine. But if the challenge becomes too much you can always pause and think about it more strategically and from a party perspective. Rather than just playing from the one view.

Where did the inspirations of that mode come from and for it to be as seamless as it is, because you can see comparisons to MOBA’s and Warcraft?

Well I think Bioware’s inspiration goes back further to Baldur’s Gate and those top down RPG’s.

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The game is the third in the franchise, so you’re fairly well established with Dragon Age and what you do. There’s a lot of other games as well coming around at the same time with competition like Lords of the Fallen, Shadows of Morder, Elder Scrolls Online. How will your game go in that kind of market as it is very different and unique compared to what is there?

It is and what I think is good and that is positive for the Fantasy space market is that it is possible to sustain multiple franchises. And it just encourages strength across the board. Fantasy has had something of a revival in recent years with Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones and stuff which is fantastic, a positive environment for fantasy and the games that inhabit it. So I think it’s great for everyone.

You say fantasy is having a bit of a revival, I’d say role-playing as well is having a renaissance. Dungeon’s and Dragons is back again with new rules, simplified. There’s a lot more indie gaming that’s using the mechanics. How do you keep things accessible when there’s a lot of other options and different things about?

It is challenging. I think you can’t be stuck in the position where you’re trying to please everybody. You end up diluting the experience so what we’ve tried to do is allow you to play Dragon Age the way you want to play it. If you want to get more in depth and in to the tactical side of things then you can absolutely do that. But if you are a more casual player and if you want to go through the narrative without getting as deep in to the ability trees then you can. What we’d like to see, if you are a more casual player, is that you get introduced to it and you just dip your toe in the more complex systems and if they enjoy it then they do.

With art & design, you’ve probably seen enough concept sketches to keep DeviantArt running for years to come. What kind of artistic inspiration do you take, how do you get that world created?

We try to go as broad as possible. We’re keen to have a broad palette for our artists, not just from the genre of games but from film, TV, architecture, fine art, contemporary art, sculpture, writing. You name it people are passionate about it and it provides the spark of creativity then it’s a wonderful thing. So we look very broadly with our inspirations.

There’s a lot of things that come from the games characters, how much of the classic Bioware character driven style is still in the game, given all the changes? 

It’s still incredibly core to the experience. You start with the narrative perspective, get the story outline, introduce the characters. Their personalities are explored and evolve right from the concept artist even before the 3D side of things. It is still absolutely part of it. Dragon Age Inquisition is a game about a vast and threatening diverse world and the people in that all have needs and desires and that’s key to the experience.

DAIINT4I suppose it might be a new thing for a Dragon Age game where you’re going in to an online world where the key is community. Destiny has shown already how many people, even on consoles, will form groups, discuss the game, play the game, etc. How do you see Dragon Age being received by the community like that, as the genre leans very heavily towards that kind of community?

I think Dragon Age and Bioware itself already has a very vibrant community. There’s no shortage of passion for the franchise. I hope Dragon Age will get people more involved and more emotionally interested in these characters and drive further conversation and further collaboration between fans and Bioware.

So what’s been your favourite thing so far in developing the game and what have we got to look forward to?

It’s hard to say, there’ve been so many things. It’s been a challenging development. Anything like this is difficult to achieve. I look at the final game now and I see how the design and the art has gelled in to the experience and I feel very satisfied and I and the rest of the team are very proud of it. We’re always working on new ideas and Dragon Age has always got more stories to tell. So there’s a lot more to come.

How about getting the Xbox One version up to spec with the PS4?

Game development is challenging, it’s always difficult. I think the key is trying to give the same level of satisfaction and experience across all the platforms so we hope to achieve that.

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Dragon Age Inquisition is due out on November 21st on Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4 and PC.

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