What The People Behind Mass Effect And Dragon Age Are Trying To Do

Illustration for article titled What The People Behind Mass Effect And Dragon Age Are Trying To Do

I spoke to the men running the studio behind many of the world's biggest role-playing games a couple of weeks ago, to discuss a variety of things. I left with a bonus: The BioWare Vision Statement.

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Here is that vision, from the mouth of Ray Muzyka, EA's general manager for (as he named them) BioWare Edmonton, BioWare Austin, BioWare Mythic and BioWare Montreal: "Create, deliver and evolve the most emotionally engaging gaming experiences in the world. That's the vision for the BioWare group across the four studios, and they all have different ways to approach that."

He mentioned this during an interview in San Francisco tied to the 2010 Game Developers Conference. I had been needling Muzyka about his propensity for using the phrase "emotionally engaging" a lot. But, he said, that's the BioWare vision, something that he said came clear in the past year after a series of meetings with the heads of the studios.

Emotional engagement, he said, is what great role-playing games can create between the games and their players. "These experiences just pull you in... The features of classic RPGs help do that, they facilitate that. The journey of an explorer gives you the sense of awe and mystery as you enter new places. You feel like you're the first person to see it.

"The tension of combat and feeling like you're going to get your ass handed to by some gigantic creature or some kind of space monster or something like that. Or a villain in a contemporary setting...

"[There can also be a] sense of pride in your progression of a character.

"There are lots of emotions you can have interacting with other characters in a game: hatred, love, loyally, friendship, remorse, sadness, grief — all kinds of different interesting emotions. As long as you're engaging people in that level, we think that's a more compelling experience."

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Muzyka's colleague, BioWare co-founder Greg Zeschuk offered his way of looking at it: "People are thinking about our games after they play them. The average game.. you play it, you experience it, your go back to work or home and it doesn't stick with you. Somehow, our stuff sticks with you. It's the character interactions, all these things that Ray discussed. It all lives with you after."

BioWare's four branches currently have several projects in development, including future installments of Dragon Age and Mass Effect as well as Star Wars: The Old Republic. Mythic's ongoing project is Warhammer Online. The Montreal studio's project(s) is/are unannounced. Expect the above goals — or an attempt to attain the above — to be targeted in all of those games.

DISCUSSION

I'm a long term JRPG fan, since the Mega Drive days, I never had a powerful PC as a kid so I didn't get a chance to play all the classic WRPG's, my first dive into that genre was Knights of the Old Republic for the Xbox, and I loved it, it felt so fresh after playing JRPG's for years, that's not to say I didn't enjoy them, Final Fantasy IV is probably my all time favourite game, and one of the only to ever make me "manly" tear.

A lot of people claim WRPG's aren't as emotionally engaging as JRPG's, but JRPG's tend to slap on the cheese and sympathy/depressing backstory far too thickly, to the point were it just feels FAKE.

Final Fantasy VI is a good example of this, although it's a damn good game, and probably the most well rounded of the series, every character (apart from Gau and a couple others) have literally the most depressing, suicide inducing back-stories you could possibly imagine, and the game drags them all out until it just gets tiresome to the point were you stop giving a shit.

Mass Effect is a breath of fresh air again for me, and I've felt just as emotionally attached to the world and characters of it, as I did with the likes of Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VII and Lost Odyssey.

I'm quite sick of this JRPG vs WRPG crap, when I was growing up, they were just RPG's, and I enjoy both forms of story telling equally as much, but obviously if you dedicate yourself to only one type, it's going to get stale, I don't see why people just can't enjoy both, I played Mass Effect 2, loved it to bits, and am now half way through Final Fantasy XIII, and loving it to bits too, despite the vast differences in story telling.

EDIT: I'd also like to add, as I've seen many others here comment on, the whole sex part of Mass Effect, I can't really say much that hasn't been said on this article already but I'm just going to throw this out there.

Out of all the "sexy" characters in Mass Effect 2, the one that struck me as the most appealing was Kelly, the reason? She was the most realistic, when you talked to her, she flirted in a manor that felt like a real person, not just flaunting her ass like Miranda, or playing the overly adorable to the point of annoying like Tali. BioWare need to capture more of this charm, and not make it just a goal to get your hole.