Dragon Age: Origins Interview

Article Index

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Electronic Arts
Developer:BioWare Corp.
Release Date:2009-11-03
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
GB: Let's talk monsters. From what I've seen so far, I've ran into Hurlocks, Genlocks, subdivisions of each like the emissaries, and then you have your more challenging yellow and orange mobs. We know there are dragons, and we know there are ogres, but that's about it. How many creatures are actually in the game, and how diverse do they become?

Mike: It's several dozen. I don't remember off the top of my head the exact number. But basically what we tried to do is take an ecology approach to it, where there are different creatures that live underground in the deep roads where the dwarves live. They then live on the surface, then travel with the darkspawn hordes.

So there's quite a big variety. You see them in general classes of demons, undead, darkspawn, creature or animal, and abominations. So you know, those are kind of our broad classes. And there are several examples of each. And of course, Dragon has some as well.

GB: I haven't seen any undead in the game yet. Will we be running into standard skeletons, zombies, that sort of thing?

Mike: Yeah. The undead and demons are not part of the darkspawn. The darkspawn are one threat. I think it's key to know that there is more than just one threat in the world. And often, the greatest threat can be humanity itself. Ambition, you know, hence going back to betrayal as a theme.

GB: Are these monsters or the loot in the world ever scaled to your party's level? You had said that 80 percent of the game was kind of free exploration, so obviously we might stumble into a more challenging area, potentially early in the game. Will the game scale the challenge accordingly?

Mike: Within limits. There are some areas that are harder just by nature, and some areas that are easier just by nature. But generally, the game is attempting to balance itself. What I wanted to avoid, though, was the problem of the game always being the same difficulty level, like one kind of vanilla challenge level. There need to be some spots that spike in difficulty, things that are off the have-to-do list.

There's more license for my team to build something a little harder, more challenging, but at the same time more rewarding. Right? You know, artifact level magic weapons, or whatever.

And I think people are going to find those, and usually the more obscure it is to find, the more the more likely you are to get sat down the first couple of times you try it. But still, that's the nice thing about having a world where you can explore, is you can back out, go somewhere else, and come back in a few levels, and try again.

GB: To me, that is a staple element of the RPG, and one of the reasons why I was very disappointed in Oblivion. No matter where you went, Oblivion just scaled everything to your level. There was no concept of risk versus reward. I like knowing that I can walk into an area and find it way above my head, but if I pull off the right tactics, I can take down a beast or some other obstacle before I should have been able to and reap the rewards.

Mike: Yeah. That's exactly right. And kind of catapult yourself up a bit by what you pull out of it. There's a lot of stuff that's kind of optional. You know, you click on a tombstone, and an air of cold permeates the entire area, and an ominous whispering begins. And you go, "Maybe I'd better save before this one, huh?" Like, if we actually took the time to warn you that perhaps you shouldn't be clicking on this, that's a pretty good indicator that something rough is there. But at the same time, it's probably worth it. Right?

GB: On the subject of rewards, I noticed that the game has item sets. One of my companions was getting some type of fatigue bonus for wearing the same type of armor, and I assume it only goes up from there. How far do you take the item set concept in Dragon Age? Are there sets that span rings, amulets, helmets that sort of thing?

Mike: In some cases. It's largely tied to your armor. Largely, the item sets are armor. There are some others, but they're pretty hidden. And basically, if you right click on any piece of armor in the set, it will tell you exactly what the set bonus is. So you get some that reduce the amount of fatigue, so it's essentially lighter if you wear the whole set. Some might buff your damage, or your criticals, or that kind of thing.

So it's not a huge impact on the game, but it's there, and it's got to be some encouragement to try and collect a set of armor together, right? And there are suits of armor that are very powerful when put into a set, like the set bonus is more significant. And each piece of armor is also quite strong as well.

So at that point, the player's kind of like, "Hmm, do I want to wear the boots, or do I want to wear those other really good boots?" And that's what I love. Like when I think about equipping and building my character, that kind of choice between you know, partly between the aesthetics, because I care about that. (I gotta wear the green pants!)

Or but also the item set bonus does this, but those other boots do this. And so I feel torn between my equipment. I feel like the game's kind of left me in a place where I'm very excited to be, like I'm not sure which is the right one. I'm going to try it like this, you know.

And I like that. I like feeling like progressing my characters is a choice, and I'm sacrificing some things to get other things. In the same way, you can't learn all the weapon talents. You kind of have to pick what type of weapon you want to use as a warrior, right? It's the same thing, like, (God, I wish I were awesome at both, but I can't be, because I went with sword and shield. Right?

It's not irritating, but it's the delightful frustration of knowing I can't have it all, of not being the uber-player. You know what I mean? And knowing that then my goal is to make up for the weaknesses. Oh, he's not good at range? Well, what if I brought a rogue in?

GB: Now with important equipment like what we're talking about, is that statically placed in the world?

Mike: Yeah. There are many things that are statically placed in the world specifically to be rewarding based on a series of events and adventures. I think it's a very valid way to put treasure, is to say we know that you got through something amazing to get here, so in that chest is something amazing to reward you. I would never, ever rely upon a completely random treasure system for that kind of thing, unless I had assurances that it would draw something from the amazing pile.

Even then, I prefer thematic stuff where... I'm in this ancient elven tomb, and I just killed an ancient elven spirit, and in its ancient elven sarcophagus, I found ancient elven armor. That to me just hangs better than, you know, a ridiculous maul or something. You know what I mean? Like, well, that doesn't seem very elven to me.

So it's important to me that you feel like your reward is not just commensurate with your effort, but also kind of thematic, too. If I find dragon scales on a dragon, then I go make dragon scale armor, wicked.

GB: So in the case of pickpocketing or mundane, standard chests, is that loot random?

Mike: There's quite a bit of stuff that's random, yeah. It's generated from different tables, based on the type of creature that and you know, you will find stuff like healing items in that pile as well.

GB: Okay. I'm going to jump over to the base camp we've heard so much about... Are there multiple base camps?

Mike: Well, kind of... but kind of no. The camp itself is always kind of an abstract, so it's in the same geometry in terms of where you explore, but basically, you can be anywhere. You can be in the Brecilian forest, or at Redcliffe, and kind of go to your camp, but basically, you don't go anywhere. You just set up camp at a convenient place with some water nearby, and away you go.

And then from there, you can leave, and you basically leave from wherever you were. Your camp is considered to be where you are. So it's kind of everywhere and nowhere at once. It's almost an abstraction. But ultimately, it provides a place where you can recover from wounds if you've got injuries. There's also a store there. Everybody in your party is there, and all of their inventories and skills and level ups, and all that it's all there.

So you basically have a party and whatever you've collected, so you can move all your equipment around, and get ready, and then set out. I like having everybody's stuff available at that interface.

GB: I noticed, too, that you can speak to any of your immediate followers at any time.

Mike: Yep. Often you can ask them like, )What do you think about the place we're in?), too. It's pretty cool.

GB: So if you're pursuing a romance, are there specific points where you have to strike up a conversation in order to keep it going? You know, in order for it to progress to the next stage? I remember in Jade Empire, it was very specific. In Jade Empire, if you missed a specific trigger point with one of your followers, the romance was over for good.

Mike: Oh, I know exactly what you're talking about. Yep. No, because the game itself is open for the vast majority of it, you can always go back to wherever it is you needed to be. I can't think of any situations where you would miss out, unless something you've done has resulted in the death of a follower, or them up and leaving or whatever, in which case your romance is probably screwed anyway. You know, death does that.

But yeah. I mean, there are instances where certain discussions, they're not going to have out on a road. They're like, (Can we maybe set up camp and talk about this there?) And in which case, you go, "Oh, so you want to talk about it,) and away you go.

GB: But if you don't set up camp at that point, and don't for a few hours further into the game, will that conversation still be able to take place?

Mike: Well, then you talk to them about it again, and now you're at camp. Very few things in Dragon Age are on timers. There are sequences in the game that kind of lock you into a bit of a course of action for a while, largely because it backs up the narrative, and it creates kind of a dramatic tension for you. It's like, "Oh, my God. I'm trapped in my own nightmares," or whatever. At that point, you're not going to go wandering back to your camp, but that's largely for dramatic purposes.

But you know, once you've done that, then you can go back to camp. You can go shopping. You can go back to Denerim and visit the bars. Whatever.

GB: At the point where I'm at in the game, I've always had a follower with me. Other than maybe the first 30 seconds of the game, you always have a follower. Can the game be soloed? Once you get past the intro origin, can you drop all of your followers and solo the game the rest of the way through?

Mike: Yeah. There's some situations where people are forced into your party, because they are pivotal to the area you're in, or the thing that you are doing. So they become kind of locked in there. But other than that, yeah. You can run it solo if you want.

That said, I'm unapologetic about the fact the game was designed for a party of four. So good luck to you.

GB: It's the same with Baldur's Gate II, too, though. A lot of people enjoy the challenge of trying to make it through solo.

Mike: Oh, yes. The lead designer of Mass Effect went through it with a rogue. That was like, wow. Yeah, a mage and stuff, sure, but a rogue? Wow.

GB: On the topic of Baldur's Gate II, are there any strongholds in Dragon Age? That was a pretty significant part of it, being able to acquire de'Arnise Keep and experience those types of areas and everything that went along with them.

Mike: No. Not in the same way you're thinking. The problem with the Dragon Age kind of situation is that any place that you kind of took over would probably then be later destroyed by the Blight, which would be a little tricky. It's not something we're opposed to by any means. It's just not something that fit for what you were doing as a Grey Warden.

That said, there may be something available in the expanded content that fills a certain degree of that void.

GB: Warden's Keep, by chance? I did notice references to something called Warden's Keep next to The Stone Prisoner...

Mike: I can neither confirm nor deny that rumor.

GB: Okay, I'll take that as it is. Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Mike.