Ex-BioWare Writer Drew Karpyshyn Interview

23 Aug 2012

Eurogamer is offering a rather long interview with former BioWare writer Drew Karpyshyn, which you might remember for his role as the lead writer for the original Mass Effect, which tackles themes such as the controversial ending for Mass Effect 3 and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

Since we've heard enough about Mass Effect 3's ending and the article basically just quotes his blog, I'm going to quote another excerpt entirely instead:
"In our early games, dialogue was still mostly read off the screen, not spoken by voice actors. As a result, the writing felt more 'bookish', and less 'screenplay', if that makes sense. As we got better voice acting and digital acting, we had to adapt to take advantage of things like an actor's performance or a character's facial expression - we had to learn to draw on the subtle nuances that weren't available when we first began. As a result, our writing became more efficient and focused," Karpyshyn noted.

"When it all comes together - voice acting, digital acting, writing, music - we get amazing stuff, like the Sovereign conversation in Mass Effect 1. But it's also harder as a writer to maintain creative control - the more elements that are involved, the more people you have putting their stamp on it. That's great when it works, but it can also be frustrating. And it's much, much more expensive, which is why an old-school game like Baldur's Gate 2 could never be made with full voice acting - there's too much dialogue, and the budget would break any studio."

We're on the cusp of a new generation of hardware, which will have more graphical power than ever before. 2K Games boss Cristoph Hartmann made the unfavourable comment that games wouldn't be able to produce emotional nuance like Brokeback Mountain did until games got closer to photorealism. BioWare has been at the forefront of emotional, cinematic storytelling - so, what does Drew Karpyshyn think? "If that were true, then no animated feature could ever convey emotion. Tell that to Disney and Pixar - they seem to get along okay without photorealism," he answered.

"The actual danger is falling into the uncanny valley. If you push too close to photoreal but come up just short, it's hard for viewers to reconcile what they see with what they expect - eyes look cold and dead, or motions seem slightly askew or artificial. That's a real problem as digital graphics advance. However, if you go with a more stylised approach, then audiences react differently. They don't expect a cartoonish character to have perfectly realistic traits, and their brains don't recoil at the almost imperceptible irregularities that are so jarring with near-photoreal graphics."

Drew Karpyshyn won't be a part of the next-generation of console gaming, having retired from the industry. But he doesn't foresee anything greatly affecting the course his craft already seems intent upon.

"I imagine we'll see a continued progression along the lines of what we've experienced over the past decade," he shared, "but it's hard for me to imagine any kind of major revolution or change. Game writing will evolve slowly and in small increments; I don't foresee any kind of watershed moment that will forever change the way things are done because of any hardware or technical advances."