Gamasutra has an absolutely solid four-page interview with Mike Laidlaw on Dragon Age II. The questions on page four in particular caught my eye, so, well, here they are:
You talked about the three main points that you wanted to address with Dragon Age II. You said "combat is a big one." People were scared to hear that you were mucking about with combat.
ML: Yup. I think so. It's not specifically just that we're changing combat. It's that the combat has become responsive and faster. I think that from a certain point of view that means '‘'‘ to use internet parlance '‘'‘ "OMG you are dumbs down like action game!"
And of course, RPGs, people are pretty protective of them. They liked elements of Origins that were very tactical, that were very methodical. So when they hear that now I can jump and attack guys, well, that must be! That is an action trope, therefore it must now be an action game.
That's not true, but I understand how you can make that jump there, because what it represents to me is people saying, "I really like that thing you did. Could you not take it away?" Which I love. I love that.
So for us, it became very careful to be, I guess, protective of the elements of Origins that did work really well, that resonated with the people that like the tactical gameplay, because controlling a party is increasingly rare.
For whatever sins it may have committed against games, or the successes it had, Final Fantasy XIII decided to stick with turn-based combat. They said, "We weren't sure whether or not people in the West would still like that." And then it turned out that the feedback they got after all was said and done is everybody still liked that.
ML: Yeah, yeah. I think XIII, do what you will with it, but I think that in a lot of ways, the menu-based combat, having auto attack, I think some people felt the agency was lost. Well, what happened when I use the pick attack instead of it filling out attack for me?
So there's always danger when you make changes, right? But I laud anyone who experiments and says, "Well, I think maybe we could do this better." It doesn't always work, but the key there is to be humble and to be honest with yourself. Like we said, get people from Mass Effect and say, "So, what works here? What doesn't work here?" Do a sit down and focus test to make sure that you're doing your homework and that the changes you're making are the right ones.
Even then you won't get it perfect, I think that personally Dragon Age II is more responsive. It's a more satisfying experience, and yet it still retains the stuff that I love. Being a long'‘term Baldur's Gate and frigging Gold Box fan, it's got the stuff that I like out of my fantasy RPGs, but it feels like a modern game.
So Peter Molyneux got up on stage at GDC last year and said, "Our mandate for Fable III is to sell five million copies this time, and that's why we are making specific streamlining decisions." Have you had any mandate? "We want a bump. We want to reach out to more people. We want more people to like Dragon Age II than Dragon Age Origins."
ML: Huh! Okay. So I think that's a goal, but when you say "mandate," it becomes a much harsher thing. Mandate is a "you must," and the decisions will be made due to focus groups or something.
For me, I guess, fundamentally, there are more people who are ready to play RPGs than realize it. These are people who will play FarmVille. These are people who have shot enough people in the head that they've leveled up in Medal of Honor. They've gained XP and have received awards as a result. That's an RPG mechanic. They've played [Grand Theft Auto] San Andreas and they've run enough, and gotten buff enough, that their endurance is a higher. They've leveled.
So I think there's more people out there with RPGs, and then it's honestly on RPGs to try to figure out how to take the mechanics that people are actually loving in other genres and say, "No, no, no. We had those years ago, but we understand that they kind of were scary."
So there was no mandate, but I mean there were decisions that we made as a team that said, "Okay, this is, I think, more welcoming." Not "dumbed down" or anything like that, but welcoming. Like starting the game, your character walks up, says something kind of over the top, and immediately starts exploding Darkspawn. I haven't set my decks at all. I haven't spent points.
What it does, is it lets you get into the game and go, "Okay, cool. This is what their combat is like. I get that." Then the next thing you do is build your character.
Then you level up and you start spending points, and the RPG mechanics are introduced in a way that's gradual, in a way that welcomes someone who would otherwise maybe go, "Whoa! Too complex!" and shut it off immediately, and lets them slide into it without even recognizing it '‘'‘ which frankly, ideally increases the overall RPG customer base, which means we can make more RPGs, which means I can play more RPGs that I don't know the ending to. I like that.