Sure, BioWare's MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic is getting all of the headlines right now, but that doesn't mean that the sure-to-be stellar Star Wars MMO is all the RPG maestro currently has up its sleeve. Due out on PC early next year is Dragon Age: Origins, described by the developer as the spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate. We haven't forgotten (see our first-look preview here), and neither should you. But just in case, here's the result of our chat with lead designer Brent Knowles, where he talks consoles, DRM, Peter Molyneux and plans for the future.
VideoGamer.com: Tell us a little bit about your role on the game.
Brent Knowles: I'm the lead designer. At this stage of the project I'm doing a lot of testing. I'm playing through the game right now providing feedback. I have a great team of designers who are iterating on content and putting in all the cool art stuff and all the programming code, testing the features, so we're at that stage where things are just getting put together. We're excited about how the game is taking shape. Day to day I have meetings usually where we discuss any problems that we're trying to take care of and as much as possible I'm trying to play test.
VideoGamer.com: How far off is the game in terms of release?
BK: We're on trajectory for what we've already announced, early release of 2009.
VideoGamer.com: I understand that you've built a graphics engine called Eclipse specifically for Dragon Age. What are the strengths of the engine and why did you decide to develop a new engine for the game?
BK: It has a lot of strengths. We've developed a lot of our own engines internally so this was an evolution of that, taking the lessons we learned on Baldur's Gate and on Neverwinter Nights, and making a more flexible engine framework, one that's a little bit easier to add components to later on or swap components out, I think that's probably one of its primary strengths. Our old engines actually aged quite gracefully, like they're still being used to make games, but we're hoping Eclipse is going to be a long lasting engine. Of all the features the graphics engine is going to be the most visible. It's a next-gen engine, it's doing all of those wonderful art things from a design side which technically is a lot more data driven.
VideoGamer.com: Will DX10 open up additional graphical features for the game?
BK: We're really focusing on the broad audience of DX9, so we're trying to be strongly compatible with DX9 and showcase the features available there to hit that wide audience base, let as many people as possible enjoy Dragon Age.
VideoGamer.com: Is that a no or a yes?
BK: I don't believe we're actually incorporating any special DX10.
VideoGamer.com: The game is a purely single-player experience. Did you ever consider multiplayer functions in terms of the party format or was it always going to be a single-player game?
BK: There are a lot of multiplayer fans in the company and on the team. I worked on Neverwinter Nights and I was a lead designer on two expansion packs for Neverwinter Nights. It's a difficult thing to create a strong compelling story and have a multiplayer experience. So fairly early on in Dragon Age we realised that we had to focus on the single-player experience. Even back with Neverwinter Nights expansion pack two, even though Neverwinter Nights was a multiplayer game we made the second expansion pack single-player for that reason. Once you start getting into cut scenes and dialogue, having multiple players is a pretty huge challenge. It's not an insurmountable challenge but we wanted to focus our resources on having the really awesome looking graphics, having great cinematic presentation. We definitely discussed it, and going forward we want to encourage people to download additional content, I think our PRC (post-release content) team is coming up with some nice ideas to make this happen. But I'm really happy with how things turned out. Like Mass Effect, being able to focus on the story has really proven itself.
VideoGamer.com: The Origins subtitle suggests Dragon Age is a franchise you intend to return to in the future. Is that in BioWare's plans or will you have to look at the success of the first game before making that decision?
BK: We're already planning the future, what the team's going to do, where the IP's going to go. We've spent years developing the world. There's many more countries in the world than the one you're visiting in the first game, there's thousands of years of history, there's a lot of exciting places and events for players to experience, so we're definitely hoping to see the Dragon Age IP have a really bright life after the initial release.
VideoGamer.com: Is it possible to suggest a time frame or model you're looking at in terms of when you're going to get the next Dragon Age game out there? Will fans have to wait a long time?
BK: I don't think I'd be allowed to speak to specifics. I think we wouldn't be looking at a long drought, we want to keep players engaged in it. Post release content will be coming out fairly regularly for people to download. And then we'd obviously want to have some other product out in a reasonable time frame so people haven't forgotten about Dragon Age by the time it comes out. So it'd be smart of us to have stuff come out sooner rather than later.
VideoGamer.com: What kind of DLC are fans likely to see for Dragon Age?
BK: I don't work directly on the team so I don't want to make promises for them. We have a separate team that's developing the post-release stuff. I do have rough ideas what they want to do. They want to extend the adventure, they want to add new content into the pipe but I can't really say anything specific because their plans change on a day to day basis.
VideoGamer.com: Can you give us a rough idea?
BK: I think it's probably safer for me not to go into it.
VideoGamer.com: There's been some talk on your own forums regarding the copy protection you're going to have for the game. Have you pinned down a strategy yet?
BK: Lots of talk, lots of listening to fans. Obviously it's an issue that everybody is very well aware of. We haven't announced any plans but we're definitely paying attention to what the community is saying and keeping that to help guide that in the future. But we haven't announced anything yet.
VideoGamer.com: What was your take on the reaction to Mass Effect's copy protection? Have you learned any lessons from that?
BK: Again I think that's part of listening to the community. We've definitely acknowledged what they have said. Obviously I'm up to my head in Dragon Age work, so I don't pay maybe as much attention as I should do to the other products but we want to have a real positive reaction to Dragon Age when it comes out and there's going to be a lot of thought put into what our strategy is going to be.
VideoGamer.com: I interviewed Peter Molyneux recently regarding Fable II, and he said that he felt the PC market was "in tatters" as a result of piracy. But you guys still seem keen to support the PC platform strongly. What's your take on developers who say hardcore PC gaming is dead?
BK: Personally I'm a huge PC gamer. I'd be really disappointed if every company started adopting that philosophy and I think it could start becoming very self-defeating. There's definitely a difference in sales but when you lump all the consoles together versus the PC market it's maybe not a fair comparison. If you make a smart product that has a lot of reasons for fans to continue going online, like our post-release content will, to download additional material that gives them a reason to secure a legitimate copy of the game. There's still a lot of PC games that do well. It's maybe not the golden child market it was a long time ago but it also goes in cycles, right? I really like PC gaming, a lot of people here like PC gaming. We have a lot of fans who are very active and are PC gamers. We have newer fans of the consoles but we still have guys who email about Baldur's Gate II. I think underestimating the PC market at this point would be a mistake. It's still a viable market. I don't feel it's in tatters.
VideoGamer.com: Interestingly Game Informer has posted online that they've got a Dragon Age reveal coming in the November issue and on the front it says it's got an exclusive first look at the console editions. So I guess it's safe to say that Dragon Age: Origins is coming to consoles, right?
BK: Yes it will show up on the consoles after the PC release at some point.
VideoGamer.com: Why have you guys decided to do a console version and what kind of time frame are we looking at in terms of release after the PC version?
BK: I can't speak to the time frame specifically. As to why, we're smart, we think about these things a lot and we know that the console market is an important market as well. And it just makes sense. There's not a lot of RPGs like this available for console players. There's a lot of people that the console is their primary gaming platform, they aren't playing on PC. The reaction to Mass Effect for example, was huge, it was phenomenal. We know there's an audience out there for this Western style RPG and we want to make sure we deliver to them a good, strong fantasy RPG. They're going to have a lot of fun with it. We've kept consoles in mind throughout the development cycle so I think we're going to have a really strong offering to the console players.
VideoGamer.com: Thanks for your time.
Dragon Age: Origins is due out on PC early 2009. A console version will follow.