Dragon Age/Mass Effect Interview

Gamasutra recently chatted up BioWare co-founder Greg Zeschuk about both the Dragon Age and Mass Effect franchises, covering such topics as user interfaces, how they come up with so much lore, striking a balance between action and role-playing, and more.
When playing both Dragon Age and now Mass Effect, I got the feeling that these were two games coming from a similar mindset but with slightly different takes on it. Was that at all the case?

GZ: That was absolutely the case. I think there are sort of two reasons for that. One is because the RPG/MMO division has really a portfolio strategy, in the sense that there's multiple games that are serving multiple audiences. Absolutely, there's a crossover, but there's diversions.

So, by no means do we think that everyone that plays Dragon Age will play Mass Effect 2. There's going to be some crossover; there's going to be some difference. The second reason is that it's reflected by the respective teams. So we had absolute distinct teams in those two games. They have different things they're trying to accomplish, different things they're trying to do. The game is really a reflection of the game and what the team wants to accomplish. That's how things naturally diverge. We think that's to our advantage to try and cover more of the potential market that way.


In terms of balance of action and roleplaying, and here when I'm saying "roleplaying" I'm talking mostly of dialogue and fetch quests and that kind of stuff, because I actually personally really enjoy those a lot. It's different on a title-by-title-basis -- but what is the ideal balance of "Here's my area where I'm going to do diplomatic things" and "Now I'm going to slice a bunch of dudes up"?

GZ: That's a good question. I don't know if I know the right balance yet. We've explored different balances. We did an experiment years ago and it, during [the period] right after Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and I think James Ohlen, who is the creative director down in Austin, said, "Okay, let's do an experiment. Everyone write down what they think the percentage of time they spend doing traveling, in your inventory, combat, and dialogue."

And everyone wrote down the percentage, and then we had someone play it, a bunch of us played it and time it all out, then compared it. It was totally different. You didn't perceive that, actually, the amount of time you were fighting was way less, but that's what stuck in your mind. Everyone kind of over-expanded the combat stuff.


GZ: It was interesting. And we didn't realize how much time we were spending on other things. I think it's a reflection of memorable moments. I think that's something where we've been focusing a lot of our effort, because those can happen a lot of times in the cinematics. Like the interrupts for Shepard -- memorable moments that really stick with the player. Those are the things that they remember and emphasize as part of their experience and share with other people.