As one of the co-founders of BioWare, Greg Zeschuk has played and made a lot of RPGs. And over the course of a fifteen-year game industry career, Zeschuk seems to have reached the point where his duties require a considerable amount of playing BioWare games as a player, not a full-time developer, to give high-level feedback and observations to the team. It's a responsibility the executive probably doesn't mind.
The studio is finishing up work on two major games, Dragon Age and Mass Effect 2, due this November and Q1 2010 respectively. They are built on two paths of BioWare's RPG history, one the more slick and modern action-tinted game, the other the more intricate old-school role-playing game.
Speaking to Gamasutra, Zeschuk addressed those games as well as BioWare's design and iteration process, the "leap of faith" of making vast swathes of content many players might never see, the pleasures of developing sequels, and why the company is keeping a close eye on the increasingly successful social gaming scene.
Since I last interviewed you, you've added a new job title to your list of job titles, now including the EA RPG/MMO group.
Greg Zeschuk: It's a group creative officer job. It's actually kind of fun, because I get to be involved in a lot of the stuff. By no means am I directing all the games. We have great people running all the games. I play them all, look at them all, and get involved, try and pull interesting things between them and share information and have fun.
How has the pseudo-merger of BioWare and Mythic worked out?
GZ: It's been going really good. We had a great time working with the guys with Mythic. We've been out there already a few times. It's kind of funny, because we're literally almost across the country. They're way in D.C., we're up in Edmonton. But we've been there a few times, and it's going really well.
What do you think about the current state of RPGs? It's interesting that your two upcoming games [Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age] represent almost two different eras, the more modern action RPG and the more sprawling, traditional RPG.
GZ: Yeah. From the perspective of what our overall strategy is for all the games we make, I think one thing that's really important is to make games that play and feel very different. Mass Effect 2 has got a really strong shooting component. The shooter is really good. And of course, you've got the incredible cinematic conversations. We describe it as a third-person conversation where you're directing Shepard, and he's doing stuff.
Whereas Dragon Age is very much, right from the beginning, an intimate playthrough of who you are, where you came from, and the decisions that got you to the point in the game where it starts. That's a very personalized experience. It's a little more traditional in that you've got a party and you can directly control the party members. You said "sprawling," which is a good word to use, because really it's a gigantic game.
It's funny -- I've been teasing the lead designer about that while we're here because I'm almost done with my [Dragon Age] playthrough.
Is that Mike Laidlaw?
GZ: Right, Mike Laidlaw. I was just realizing how big this game is. One of the guys from Mythic just finished it, and I was saying to him, "Did you get to this part, and did that happen? Did this guy go in your party?" He goes, "What do you mean? You can get him in your party?"
It's got that magical thing we strive for, which is personalization. The state of the industry in general, I think, is very exciting, because we've been seeing other games kind of coming into this space, this story-driven gaming, but it's also progressive -- all the pillars we talk about at BioWare, like combat and great characters.
We've really been progressing a lot. I look at Fallout 3, which is probably the best exploration-driven game ever. I think that is just incredible. All of us have continued to work at our craft to keep making better and better games. Dragon Age and Mass Effect 2 are among our best games ever. It's very exciting to actually have this coming in pretty quick succession for a little while here.
BioWare doesn't usually have tentpole releases come out in such close proximity like that.
GZ: We don't engineer it, that's for sure. There are a few months in between them, so it's not super close, but it's close enough. It's wonderful, because the moment Ray and I finished playing Dragon Age, I actually got a build of Mass Effect 2 I can play all the way through as well.
Of course, for both games, we have a lot of ongoing content, so we playtest all that stuff. This is a silly statement, and then there's Star Wars: The Old Republic, but playing BioWare games is completely getting in the way of other games. People ask me, "What are you playing?" I'm like, "I'm only playing Dragon Age right now."
It's a funny place to be, but it's exciting, because we're still in a position where [Ray and I] can directly influence and work with the teams. The teams make all the decisions, but we provide high-level editorial feedback.