Being the lead writer on a BioWare game seems to be one of the most intensive writing jobs in the industry -- the company's mission, after all, is "to deliver the best story-driven games in the world."
Funny, then, that BioWare's David Gaider would go home from work on Dragon Age: Origins and gleefully write its prequel novel, Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne, which was just released this past March, ahead of the game's debut.
Here, Gaider talks about the evolution of BioWare's game making process since he joined the company in 1999 for 2000's Baldur's Gate II through to today, as he moves into that same high fantasy territory with Dragon Age: Origins, which is due on Windows PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 this October.
You worked on Baldur's Gate II, so you've been at BioWare for the better part of a decade.
David Gaider: Yeah, 10 years. 'Ninety-nine, I started.
How much has your role of game writer changed in that time?
DG: I didn't start as a senior writer per se, although back when I started there were only 60 or 70 people working at BioWare in total. We've specialized a lot more since then. Back then, I did a lot more scripting of my own dialogue, and I was involved a lot more in the design side.
I still do have a lot of input on those things, because design at BioWare [is comprised of] technical designers and cinematic designers and level designers -- everybody is grouped into specialties, so it gives us more time to work on our own specialty. The role has changed a little bit.
What was your background before BioWare? Did you have a writing background? Obviously now you've written this whole Dragon Age novel.
DG: [laughs] I have a weird "getting into the industry" story, because it was accidental. Prior to that, I was in the service industry. I managed a hotel. I was an enthusiast.
BioWare at the time had just finished Baldur's Gate 1, and [longtime BioWare designer] James Ohlen was going around to other people at BioWare and saying, "If you know anyone who has some interest in writing and design and who has written something game-related to completion, please let us know."
I had a friend who worked at BioWare, and I hadn't even heard of BioWare. I hadn't played Baldur's Gate at that time. But I had this play-by-mail RPG running on the side, just a little thing I was doing for some friends. I had written a rule book for it to completion -- a printed book. My friend Calvin gave it to James Ohlen -- and I didn't even know he'd done it.
So I got this phone call in my office at the hotel, saying, "We'd like to interview you." I'm like, "Who are you? And why are you interviewing me? For what?"
So I went in, and it was interesting, but it was an entry-level position for half the money I was making at the hotel, and I thought the whole BioWare thing seemed a little fly-by-night. I was like, "I'm not sure I want to leave my hotel job for some game developer... I'm just going to be out of a job in six months or something, right?"
So I said, "Thanks, but no thanks." I went back to my hotel on Monday, and my boss from Mississauga was there in my office, surprisingly. He was there to inform me that the management company that ran several hotels had been taken over, and the new company had their own managers. When a hotel is bought out, normally the general manager is let go. And because I could potentially ransack my client list or whatever, they walk you off the property.
I was shocked, but as I'm walking out of the door with my little box of stuff from my desk, I'm thinking, "You know, maybe that BioWare thing isn't so bad after all."
So, you called them back. [laughs]
DG: I called them back, and they said, "Yeah, let's do it." I think at that point, James wanted to try me out and see how it'd work. When it comes to writing, you never know what kind of background will actually work. We've hired writers who wrote prose books and were completely unable to sort of wrap their head around some elements.
The interactive aspect of game writing?
DG: The interactive nature. If you had picked one particular path of the dialogue -- the one that they had in mind -- it sounded great. As soon as you went off that path, it would fall apart.
And then you'd have people with degrees who had no experience whatsoever. It's weird -- one of the best recommendations for writing seems to be people who as a hobby do a lot of game mastering of tabletop games. They naturally wrap their brain around the interactivity part of that. Who knew?