I sat down with Dragon Age Inquisition producer Cameron Lee to talk about the return of tactical view, user feedback, characters and of course dragons, after being shown the debut live gameplay demonstration of the game.
One of the first things we need to talk about is the return of tactical view. You guys were really asking for a lot of user feedback for the construction of Dragon Age Inquisition. Was the reintroduction of tactical something that was really helped by user feedback or was it something that you guys knew from the very beginning that you needed to bring back?
“We knew from the get-go that we wanted to bring it back. One of the things that you get from that sort of fan feedback experience in that relationship that we’ve been trying to build and build is a really interesting creative discussion that occurs in the team and in the studio. Often the fans say “Well we want this over here” and you go “Cool” but sometimes they’ll also say “We want A and B” or they’re conflicting, but they said “We want tactics back” so you can look at that and you can try and understand and read between the lines about what they’re underlying issues, concerns and desires are and then you merge through that creative process that along with where you want to take the game. So we knew that we wanted to bring it back, we knew what the fans wanted, so we were able to come up with this system that addresses both.”
“So a good example is we could have just done what Origins was, which is what the fans say “Just give us Origins”, which is great, so we’ve done that but we’ve also brought in a sort of Inspector Mode so you can see what’s happening with the enemies, help you make better decisions and more control over the orders you can issue and how that works and behaves. Then you combine that with kind of also what we were trying to do which is smarter AI and a sense that the player has an influence over the battlefield. So then you put tactics on top of that along with destruction and barriers and this advanced AI and stuff like that and it ends up in a better spot as opposed to if you had done one or the other.”
One of things I noticed with tactics in the live pre-alpha gameplay demo we saw is that when going up the stairs, you just see the Conjurer enemy at the start, but switching to tactics you can see everything up there. Is there going to be a fog of war style mechanic implemented so you still have to deal with the unknown?
“Yeah, there will be something. We’re still working on the details about that view mode but we obviously don’t just want the player to bring up the tactical camera mode and be able to see everything. But I’ll tell you what you can do is there are some really cool times when it’s raining and stuff like that, when you pull tactical cam everything in the world freezes. So it’s kind of like this sort of Matrix moment where you can spin around like the raindrops and stuff like that. It’s pretty badass. But we’ll work out something about how you use the camera and how far you can go.”
What other user feedback did you receive that you’ve really built into Dragon Age Inquisition?
“Playable races are definitely one thing. We knew people wanted playable races. One of the principles that was taken into Dragon Inquisition was that this is your game, so we want the players to feel like when they create a character that it’s really their character and playable races are fundamental to that. So picking an elf, a dwarf, a human, or qunari and then your class on top of that and as you play you can specialise it into different areas. So doing that was really important for us and it was important for the fans as well.”
“There’s the epic scope of the story as well, people wanted a more sprawling epic thing, and that’s what we wanted to do as well so that was an easy decision to make. The story that we’ve got now is so big and so broad that it’s also another reason why we created this open world experience. We want people to go across all the different regions of this world, but we didn’t want to just stick them in a spot where it doesn’t make sense if you just run from like a snow-capped mountain top to the sahara desert. So when you go to the desert in Dragon Age Inquisition you feel like you’re in the desert because that whole massive open world experience is in the desert and when you go to the snow-capped mountains, you’re actually kind of there. So the use of colour and the use of effects in the world allow us to do that, and you still get all the benefits of the discovery and having that big open world and then trying to combine that with a Bioware story which the exploration and the discovery needs to influence the main story which is fantastic for Inquisition. It’s a pretty good combination, I think.”
What can you tell us about the new party members in Dragon Age Inquisition? Varric has come back which I am ecstatic about!
“Did you notice his chest hair? It’s so good! It’s so hot, that chest hair! Varric is back which is awesome and Cassandra which you would have seen as well, from Dragon Age II and some of the novels. Vivienne is the new character and she’s really cool. She’s like an ex-First Enchanter from one of the circles. Vivienne’s personality is really interesting and I think that there’s going to be some interesting conflicts between her and some of the other characters that you’re going to meet along the way. They’re the ones that we’ve announced so far, unfortunately I can’t talk about the other ones. We have mentioned that Morrigan is back, as you know, so she’s not a party member but she plays a major role in the game. I’d be very interested to hear some conversations between Vivienne and Morrigan.”
Looking at the next gen of consoles there’s a fairly big focus on second screens and we’ve seen in the gameplay demonstration the ability to work with keeps. Aside from it’s current purpose, is there going to be further integration to Dragon Age Inquisition with The Keep?
“Regarding second screen and stuff like that for gen four, we’re still working out what we want to do. One of the advantages of shipping a year after the gen four release is that we get to see how the players really respond to some of these things. We want to make sure that if we do anything in that area that it’s really valuable to the players and that it connects properly into the game. So we’ll work on that in a little bit.”
“The Dragon Age Keep save game sort of website, that’s connected into the game at least from the very beginning so you need to make your decisions on the website or can if you want to set up your world save and import that into the platform you want to play on, which is kind of cool because it means if I played on 360 and I want to move to PC or PS4 or whatever, I can do that. So we’re really happy with that and the fact that the player is in control of their world state rather than it being in some save file somewhere. You know, it’s the players game, it’s the players world, let them be in charge of it, right?”
Of course, we’ve got to talk about dragons. We got a glimpse of a dragon battle in the gameplay demo so what can you tell us about the dragons in the game?
“So dragons are pretty brutal. That dragon that you saw we’ve had him in a final state for a long time now. To give you a bit of background, I came in to Dragon Age and Bioware probably about a year and a half ago, so I played DAO and DAII as a fan. So it’s awesome to be able to be a part of making Dragon Age Inquisition and see a dragon fight take shape, especially with what we’ve got now. That dragon you saw, he pounces around and he’s more aggressive and brutal than previous dragons in the series.”
“In DAO and DAII you know the dragons were basically like big lumbering sort of things, and it’s not like that at all in Inquisition. It’s far more dynamic, far more interactive and the fact that he can blow through those buildings and crush stuff is amazing. There are a number of dragons in the game and it’s kind of cool as not all the dragons are the same sort of dragon. They have different behaviours, they have different strengths and weaknesses and you have to approach them in different ways so it’s going to be really good fun to play that.”
Obviously Dragon Age Inquisition is going to draw a lot of comparisons to Skyrim and I know Bioware were looking at Skyrim to see what worked well and what didn’t. What kind of features have you brought in and what separates Dragon Age Inquisition from a game like Skyrim?
“I think there’s a couple of things. In Dragon Age Inquisition the story is still the main focus so having a really strong narrative with Bioware characters and a Bioware story is fundamental to our DNA, so I think that’s a big point of difference. And the other one is really this open world sense. Our story is too big to tell in one area, we need to take the player to really diverse locations around the world. By doing so, we want the player to feel like that they’re actually in that place whilst still having access to all the open world feeling and discovery and exploration and activities that you can do in any sort of open world game.”
“But what makes it different is that you get all of that but you also get the Bioware story and you get it in really unique, distinct locations. So when I go to the bogs, it feels like I’m trudging through this swamp and it’s not like that the desert and the bog are a five minute run from Mount Everest. It’s a bit more expansive and it’s cool that the story infuses all these different areas, so things that you’re doing in say the desert, you’ll see similar things or impacts from that in somewhere like the snow-capped mountains. Having these overarching stories and conflicts that are occurring, we can put these into all these different areas so even though the player is moving through these very large distinct areas, there’s a consistent narrative and a consistent theme that’s taking place in the world. I think that really grounds a player in these events and I’m looking forward to running around once we’ve finished all of them.”
Dragon Age Inquisition is scheduled for release in Autumn 2014 on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.