There's clearly a lot riding on the launch of Dragon Age: Origins. Its name very much implies a franchise in the offing, and Electronic Arts' high-frequency stream of promotion for the game also shows its success to be a top priority for the publisher.
It's been painted, to hardcore gamers, as a hearkening back to BioWare's old days of epic fantasy in the Baldur's Gate vein. But there is much about the game that also pushing forward into new territory for the developer.
In an interview conducted in late June, BioWare co-founder and EA RPG/MMO group general manager Ray Muzyka talks about the thinking behind the game -- which debuts in November on PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 -- and its development process, which includes a heavy focus on its innovative single-player social community.
He also discusses how the group structure recently embraced by EA, which places him above the RPG efforts coming from Mythic, BioWare Edmonton, and BioWare Austin, impacts the company on a development level.
You've said that Dragon Age is intended to be a social experience. There are of course all the user mod tools on the PC, but what else do you mean by that? "Social" is an interesting word to describe a single-player RPG.
Ray Muzyka: The thing that I've always been intrigued by is the concept of a hero's journey. A roleplaying game actually is really well suited to showing that, because you have all these key moments: Quests you've completed, choices you've made, consequences to those choices, progression, customization.
You look different at different points in the game, you get badass armor, equipment, or items. Your party members are alongside you, traveling around. You take screenshots of who they are at different times, of different people, of where you've gone in the world. And there's how the world map gets explored -- the narrative of an explorer.
These are all different types of narrative, the way I see it. There's the narrative of combat -- which creatures you defeated and how, what tactics you used to defeat them. The narrative of progression and customization -- how you look at different points in time, what equipment you have. The narrative of the story -- which quests you've done, which stories you've unlocked, which choices you've made. The narrative of the social -- which characters you have with you.
If you can surface those to other players, you've effectively created a social environment, an online-enabled offline experience. That's what we're trying to do with Dragon Age. We're trying to surface some of those.
We'll have more to show on what we're planning, but I think it's really cool. We're creating a community site that's going to enable the fans to get revved up about what each other is doing. They're showing their choices and consequences to friends. Even though it's single-player, you can still reveal those choices to each other and have fun doing it.
It enables some of that stuff that occurs anecdotally amongst friends at the water cooler: "Hey, did you play this yet? Did you go this way?" "No, I didn't run into that. I did it this way." "Really? I didn't run into that at all!"
You can meet people who are across the world and enable them to see those kinds of things, too, which I think will lead to a lot of fun discussion and collaboration in the community. Imagine that getting broader when you have post release downloadable content that expands the game as a platform concept, or community-driven content that people can play through and maybe the fans embrace this and make content that can even be expanded further with even more choices in it.
There are a lot of possible extensions to this, but I always thought the idea of a hero's journey being shown through an RPG would be really cool. So, with Dragon Age, we're going to try that.