Questions of the Week
BioWare's Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic proved that console RPGs can indeed possess the same depth and realism that we've seen from PC titles in the past. The game has been given over one hundred awards, including close to forty "Game of the Year" awards, and has set a new standard for role-playing games - regardless of platform.

Jade Empire is BioWare's next console RPG, and is currently planned for release later this year. The game is set in a completely different setting and environment -- a mythical version of China where martial arts and magic are used in unison -- and as BioWare has pointed out, Jade Empire will be implementing all the tips and tricks they learned from making Knights of the Old Republic. That alone makes it drool-worthy, but there's more. We've made sure to keep your hype meter topped off as they answer one question a week: questions about the development cycle, specific types of magic & martial arts, and how it will compare to KotOR in various ways. The Q&A will then be posted here, where the latest will always reside on top. So enjoy -- we know we will:

April 12th, 2004

What is the Marvelous Dragonfly, how will it function, and how will players gain access to it? Will there be any other forms of transportation in Jade Empire (other than walking)?

The Marvelous Dragonfly is an impossible flying machine, the creation of an insane tinker and alchemist known only as Kang the Mad. Its variable-thrust engines burn pure cinnabar and its broad wings catch and hold the wind, carrying the player character far across the lands of the Jade Empire.

The Dragonfly is useful for transportation, allowing the player to move from one location to another in very short order, but it is also a machine of war and can be armed to defeat the players' enemies on land and in the air.

April 5th, 2004

Will players always travel alone, or will other characters accompany the protaganist, similar to KotOR? If so, how many "recruitable" characters will there be?

Followers accompany the character in combats and conversations, and provide a wide variety of tactical options—some have ranged attacks, some can heal you during combat, and some others are weak in combat but help the character overcome his enemies through guile. We don't have a final number of "recruitable" characters, but we're currently trying out almost a dozen; likely only the best of them will make it into the game.

March 29th, 2004

How does a player come to own a stronghold in Jade Empire, and how will he or she acquire followers? What role will followers play?

We aren't ready to give away exactly how the player earns his stronghold, but we can definitely talk about acquiring followers. Each follower is a fully-detailed NPC who comes to your side during the course of the story, just like party members in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Some are easier to find than others, and some have to be "unlocked" by taking certain actions. Followers are sources of side quests, they comment on your behavior and provide a sort of moral compass to the game, they teach you styles and give you special power-ups, they can be sent out on special missions, and of course they travel with you and can fight with you in battles.

March 22nd, 2004

Can you tell us a bit about the sound effects that you're creating for the game, and any difficulties you've had making the effects for this type of game? Will BioWare be doing all the sound in-house, or will the musical score be composed elsewhere?

We're doing all the sound effects in-house, and besides trying to figure out what noise a 10-foot tall bull demon makes when you kick him off a bridge, audio has been smooth sailing. The game score is being composed out of house, and the early tracks I've heard are excellent.

March 15th, 2004

Do all players automatically possess a "dragon amulet"? Can you give us some examples of the gems that can be placed into the amulet?

Every character has his or her dragon amulet; this is their birthright, and one of the keys to their power. Amulet gems include the Eye of the Demon, which gives a bonus to all primary abilities but which can only be used by an evil character; the August Peridot, which grants a bonus on all weapon styles; and the Gilded Tongue, which adds a bonus to all conversation skills. These are really just a sample though; we have dozens already in the game, and more planned.

March 8th, 2004

Tell us more about the transformation styles, and exactly how a player captures an enemy's spirit in order to later use it for transformation.

Transformation styles are really cool. Basically each monster has a (small) chance of dropping its spirit when you defeat it—some spirits can only be unlocked by beating the monster in a specific way, but for common monsters you can just beat the spirit right out of them.

The character collects these spirits in a special inventory, and can access them from the main style-switching interface. When you trigger a transformation style, you literally become the monster—you gain their special attacks and turn into their model, and you can rampage around causing horrible devastation until your Chi runs out. The Chi cost for these styles is directly related to the damage they dish out, so fighting as a rat demon doesn't cost much, but fighting as a giant iron golem is very expensive.

March 1st, 2004

Jade Empire's animation is fully motion captured - something BioWare has not tackled in any previous games. What made you decide to introduce this technology with Jade Empire, and what obstacles have you encountered since you began work with it? Are you working with real martial artists to make the in-game moves look as realistic as possible?

At BioWare we always try to push something new with each of our games. When we decided to do Jade Empire, we put animation at the top of that list, and jumped right in. We started with basically no experience in motion capture, and took our first baby steps at a local rehabilitation hospital that has a motion capture setup for diagnosing hip and knee disorders. Once we had a pipeline in place for adding mocap data to a brand-new animation skeleton, we worked with Giant Studios, the same company who did the motion capture for the Lord of the Rings movies. They hooked us up with some amazing martial arts performers, all of them national champions in at least one martial art, and we worked closely with the performers to get moves that are both accurate and look great. There were some technical stumbles early on, but it's been surprisingly painless to build motion capture into our animation pipeline.

February 23rd, 2004

Can you detail the six ability scores that will be at a player's disposal? Will players have the choice to increase either primary or secondary abilities as they increase in experience? Or is each seconary ability derived from its primary?

Jade Empire has six ability scores: three primary, and three secondary. Primary abilities set the starting value for secondary abilities, but the two aren't identical, and the player can raise either as he progresses through the game.

The primary abilities are drawn straight from Chinese tradition: Body, Mind, and Spirit. Each of these ability scores is tied to specific conversation skills, so a character with a high Body is able to intimidate people, while a character with a high Mind is able to persuade them.

These primary abilities also affect the three secondary abilities of Health, Focus, and Chi. Health is a measure of the character's ability to take physical punishment—his hit points. Focus is rooted in the character's Mind, and reflects his ability to enter "Focus mode", which slows down opponents during combat and lets him race around the environment while exploring. Finally, Chi is the total of the character's magic energy, and can be used to power certain styles, to heal wounds, and to dish out special attacks called Chi strikes.

February 16th, 2004

In our first interview, there were close to 50 members to the Jade Empire team at BioWare. Now that Hordes of the Underdark and the PC version of KotOR have been released, has this number grown? How does the game's design get broken down across such a large number of people?

The Jade Empire team is roughly 70 people now, and will remain this size for the next few months as we finish the lion's share of the game content. As we near the end of the project the team will shrink down again, until it's just the leads and a few key people for final polish, but for now we're huge.

There are real challenges to working with a team this size. Communication becomes vulnerable, and therefore incredibly important. Human resources and scheduling issues demand more and more time. The leads must be able to communicate the project vision to all the new people who join their teams, and spare time becomes a very scarce resource. The upside is that I get the luxury of 70+ smart, motivated people who can absolutely annihilate problems. I'd be lying if I said I didn't love it.