Dragon Age: Origins caused quite a stir at E3 last month. With a Marilyn Manson soundtrack, a screen splattered with blood and an emphasis on shagging party members in tents, developer BioWare was clearly trying to send a message: here is a game not just for fantasy fans, but for all video game fans. But is it all in good taste, or is the game pandering to adolescent titillation? We sat down with Dr. Greg Zeschuk, vice president of BioWare and Electronic Arts, to quiz him on that, the PS3 and, wait for it... Baldur's Gate 3.
VideoGamer.com: You've called Dragon Age: Origins the spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate. Does that mean there will never be a Baldur's Gate 3?
Greg Zeschuk: Probably not by us. You can never say never. The Baldur's Gate and Dungeons and Dragons property is of course controlled by Atari, and owned originally by Hasbro, so it's a complicated, convoluted way of getting there. For us it's more a function of... because we weren't in a position to do Baldur's Gate... hey well let's create our own! That's effectively what this is. It's funny, we took a page from Fallout, not Fallout 3 but Fallout 1. Fallout 1 was basically a game called Wasteland - that was the spiritual successor to Wasteland.
VideoGamer.com: Would you have liked to have made Baldur's 3 if you'd had the opportunity?
GZ: Maybe. The things we miss more than anything else are some of the characters we created. It's frustrating - like Minsc and some of the other characters we built over the years - not being able to continue to stem that is a bit frustrating. Though, to be fair, we feel like we closed the series. There are a lot of video games that - like the original Wasteland never had a sequel - but there are a lot of games that never actually end. Whatever happens, they're left hanging and fans are like, ah I wish I'd finished it. But because we were able to finish the sequence of games in Baldur's Gate: Throne of Bhaal... it's funny, we were satisfied that we were able to deliver that entire arc. Go, 'there it is and that's the story of Baldur's Gate'. We feel like we finished our work at that time.
VideoGamer.com: So no regrets then?
GZ: No we don't have regrets.
VideoGamer.com: I saw Dragon Age: Origins at E3, and it seemed as if the marketing pitch changed. The trailer pushed the Marilyn Manson hard rock sound track and blood and sex. The behind-closed-doors presentation was pretty much all about shagging a party member in a tent. Why have you decided to push that angle?
GZ: A large part of it was to show a different dimension of the game. The challenge of showing something like this is how broad it is. There are elements that are very hardcore, but other elements are wildly appealing. So what we're aiming to do is, someone will be in that presentation and say hey look, and the guy who's talking or whatever's like, whoa whoa what's going on? Part of it is just to say, hey this is in the game, this is stuff that's there. Having people realise that there's things in the game that maybe they weren't expecting, and to try and appeal to fans who may not look at this typically. In no way is it meant to disrespect our existing fans, I mean hey, they're our lifeblood. Part of the tour that we're doing this week is to emphasise that this still is the deep, rich RPG that you think it is, but there's other things in it. There are things that appeal to RPG fans, but there's stuff in this game that'll appeal to a whole bunch of other folks too. That was the main focus behind it. The thing that was interesting was that people were worried it meant a change in the game itself. The game's the same, it's just this was a part of it. People just weren't realising that.
VideoGamer.com: BioWare's games have always had a mature leaning, in terms of narrative. The very brief sex scene in Mass Effect was done in good taste. Does the sex in Dragon Age follow that same model, or is it supposed to be a more adolescent view of fantasy?
GZ: No, I think it'll be more mature and sophisticated. From our perspective that's just how we always want to portray it. It's not meant to be adolescent titillation kind of stuff. What we're always trying to do is have an accurate reflection of human relationships, and to reflect, if there's intimacy between people, what that might be like, given this context and the situation. That's the approach we tend to take, and that doesn't change here. We create some of the concern, perhaps, in certain people - oh there's sex in the game. It's tasteful, and frankly you see worse things on evening television (laughs).
VideoGamer.com: With specific regard to Dragon Age: Origins, the concern is that it might be a teenage view of fantasy as opposed to a mature view like we saw in Mass Effect.
GZ: Yeah, it'll be like that. There's another interesting dimension to games that, I think there's a couple funny things in play in gaming that the general populace still thinks games are played by young people. They are, but they're also played by older people. In fact, the typical target for our games is more into the 20s and 30s, so they're very sophisticated. So whenever they have any hint of sex in-game, people feel, oh my goodness! They're trying to pollute the minds of these children. We're like, well people's children shouldn't be playing anyway. It's a mature product, in the same way the most serious movies have serious scenes, kids shouldn't be watching that either. In some sense it's the lack of credit we get as an industry for having the broad appeal to a wider age group. There's a mistaken assumption that these are things for kids. Clearly they're not. That's where we get some of the guff from more mainstream press. They just don't understand. They're still so out of touch with what games are that they're held back by their preconceptions.
VideoGamer.com: It'll change eventually...
GZ: It is changing... as we all take over! As people grow up and take everything over!
VideoGamer.com: When I saw the sex scene begin during the E3 presentation, it was on for maybe a second then cut out. What will you show? Will it be a simple cutscene or will there be gameplay elements to it?
GZ: It'll be cutscene-controlled environments.
VideoGamer.com: Will it be full frontal nudity?
GZ: I don't think we've worked that out yet. Because we can adjust that whenever we want, right? On Mass Effect we worked extensively to figure out, how do we want to portray it? It's not oodling pixels [laughs] - sad but probably titillating, too. For us it's more just making sure it fits the context of what we're trying to create.
VideoGamer.com: Do you think graphics are there yet in terms of making video game sex not look silly and odd?
GZ: Getting pretty close. On some level that tends to be a function of motion capture. Ironically, as silly as that would be, motion-capturing sex scenes is something I think we're not at the level of [laughs]... that's craziness. The graphics are one part, but it's interesting because as you get the graphics up how characters move is very important too, and looking natural. The more realistic they look, the worse their animation looks if it's bad, so it's kind of funny.
VideoGamer.com: But we're getting there?
GZ: I think we're getting there. Some of the animation tools and technology we have, plus the graphics, are getting pretty impressive I think.
VideoGamer.com: Dragon Age: Origins is your first PS3 game. How are you finding developing on the PS3?
GZ: It's been interesting. It's actually been quite good. We discovered a couple of things we did were pretty beneficial. We have a lot of threading through the... like the multiple threads going for the game and it looks really great on the PS3. You can just throw them on all different processors for example. It's new. Because we already had experience on 360, that kind of got ahead a little bit, but now we pretty much caught up. Actually it was very exciting. People on the team were really pumped to work on it. They were like, wow. We have a lot of people that like doing new stuff and trying new things, and they were like, wow another platform, can't wait! It's been good. It's going to be exciting having a PS3 game out, finally. We only did one PS2 game - MDK2 on PS2. It's not like we have anything against Sony by any stretch. It's just that from a publishing perspective we worked with Microsoft for five years - that made it so easy to focus on Xbox and we didn't have to worry about the PlayStation platforms. But now, since being part of EA, it just makes complete sense. It's something we're totally behind.
VideoGamer.com: One of the things that some developers struggle with is achieving graphical parity between PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the same game. How are you finding that job?
GZ: It's not bad actually. It's funny, we had extra graphic memory left over on the PS3. We were like, wow! So we actually started putting some of the audio bits in there and stuff. It's a function of effort. We have an external group, it's a developer named Enter Reality, we've contracted to work on it, we actual also teamed with some internal BioWare folks, so we're working together on the game. They've done PS3 work before and they're very talented, so we've been able to bring a lot of our artist stuff in to help and some of our technical folks, so it's worked out pretty good. Overall, pretty happy with how it's turning out.
VideoGamer.com: Will the graphics be exactly the same on both consoles?
GZ: Oh yeah. I can't say absolutely for sure. There will be elements that will be better... the actual graphics hardware is different on them, so one may be brighter than the other, but definitely the content will be absolutely the same.
VideoGamer.com: Regarding DLC, will it be ready at launch or soon after?
GZ: Very early. We'll have stuff ready very early in the process. A certain amount of stuff will come through pre-orders and things like that - we'll make certain things available. There will be stuff available early on. We want to have a very robust stream of content for people to experience. We want people to have the option of spending significant time in the world of Dragon Age and having lots of different experiences there. That's something we learned from Mass Effect - we didn't carve out a specific team to do that, we just fitted it in between things, whereas with Dragon Age there's a specific team working on it, and it already works, the pipeline works for them to create content.
VideoGamer.com: What can we expect from DLC?
GZ: A whole range actually. There will be stuff that fits into the game. There will be stuff separate from the game. There will be contents - there's the usual, hey here's an item pack. What we generally want to do with the item packs is give them a little more of a thematic benefit, where you actually have a little bit of a story by getting the item, it's a little bit of gameplay plus the item. So it's a pretty good range. It'll probably be one of the more robust programs folks will see. We want to spend a lot of effort on DLC.
VideoGamer.com: One thing that's great about what Bethesda has done with Fallout 3 is that it's supported the game with some superb DLC...
GZ: Just that phrase supporting the game, is key. Historically you throw a game over the fence at retail and it's like, bye bye! We haven't done that. We've tended to always try and maintain that customer relationship via community, via post-release content, via tools. So for us it's a very natural approach. We think it's the right approach. We want people to continually be thinking about the game. There are a lot of benefits to still having PDLC coming out that's high quality and people think is beneficial.
VideoGamer.com: You guys recently teamed up with Mythic and were brought in under EA's RPG/MMO group. One of the things that surprised a lot of people was Mark Jacobs' exit from Mythic. Did that surprise you?
GZ: You know, Mark's a really good guy. I've known him for a while. He's an entrepreneur. He wanted to do his own thing. I can't speak to other people's decisions per se. I think the work he's done is great. I'm a massive fan of Dark Age and I really liked Warhammer quite a bit. People make their own decisions and do their own thing. You can never really predict why, what or how.
Dragon Age: Origins is due out for the PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 on October 23 2009.