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With all the recent talk of BioWare scaling down and focusing on a new IP, people tend to forget about the other major BioWare property – Dragon Age. To remedy that, Alexis Kennedy of Fallen London fame has spoken to Eurogamer about his work on the next Dragon Age.
The interview focuses more on Kennedy's experiences as a remote employee and his transition from smaller projects to something with AAA ambitions. Still, we can glean a thing or two about the current state of development. Here's an excerpt:
Any informed Dragon Age fan could have a good guess where the franchise is now headed - if not by the end of Dragon Age Inquisition then definitely after its excellent final DLC Trespasser, which acts as a bridge to the future. Trespasser's final moments saw a dagger literally placed into a map of the Tevinter Imperium, a much-referenced but never visited new region of the Dragon Age world.
"What I can say is I have been given considerable autonomy to work on a storyline bit of lore which is well-segregated from other parts of the game," Kennedy teases, "which makes a lot of sense with me being remote. And yes, if you've seen a lot of my work before you will probably not be surprised by the choice of subject matter. It's familiar stuff."
Let's face it, a portal through the Fade to Kennedy's familiar beat of steampunk London is probably unlikely. My money, then, would be on something to do with the Qunari race, a group fairly separated from the main Dragon Age races and which Trespasser implied would soon play a larger role.
"I don't want to exaggerate the degree of the chunk [I'm writing]," Kennedy quickly adds. "It's more analogous to Patrick Weekes writing [Mass Effect character] Mordin than me being told to go off and write a whole different country... It's nothing that grandiose, but it is distinct. It's a bit of lore which has not been addressed much to date in Dragon Age."
"Something I've enjoyed at BioWare - possibly because I'm a masochist - is the constraints," he laughs. "I knew they were constrained by being fully voice-acted. But I hadn't realised how much of a constraint it is. It's much easier to breeze through [writing] huge quantities of text when you don't have to worry about it being voiced. It's very difficult to put the player's name in dialogue - which is why you have the names Shepard and Ryder in Mass Effect, or the title of Inquisitor."
Writing a word-heavy RPG like Sunless Sea "you can hose people down with words and some will stick," Kennedy says. Writing a bigger budget role-player "you have to stand closer to your audience and put each word in their top pocket," he adds. "There's a hard limit on the amount of words you're allowed to put into something. You have to choose those words more carefully. It's thrilling."
After finishing a chunk of writing, Kennedy and the other Dragon Age writers will then share their work with the rest of the team to gather feedback. It's like a "friendly roast", Kennedy describes. "The writer under review has to listen while their peers take turns round the table describing the things they liked and disliked. A key thing is the rest of the team are instructed to be friendly, as the writer is in a very exposed position, but the person who is being reviewed does not have right of reply until the end. It's great, if your work is being dissected it's constantly tempting to say 'no, but -'. Just sitting and listening gives an immediately better quality of feedback." Kennedy laughs: "I suspect I'll probably need to make some changes after it's been through my peers' claws."
Kennedy is near the halfway point of his writing time on the game, although the project will continue in production long after his words have been finalised. Just in the past few days there have been job postings for all manner of roles - level designers, programmers, a lead cinematic animator, a senior technical animator - all of which could be for BioWare's aforementioned Dylan but have been shared on social media by Dragon Age team members. Just how big is the Dragon Age team now within BioWare? "It started out small..." Kennedy says, pausing. "I have to be careful what I say. Obviously, BioWare has completed one public project recently so that has freed up some resource. The team is growing."