So, you might have heard some bad things about Dragon Age 2, or maybe you heard some good things. I suppose your opinion on the game depends pretty heavily on whether or not you ever worry about things like getting ad revenue from EA ever again, but whatever. Having finished Bioware’s latest “epic,” I sat back and wondered what the pitch for DA2 must have sounded like in the initial design meetings at Bioware. I imagine it went something like this, assuming you ignore continuity and timeline and all that. I’m trying to make a point:
DESIGN LEADER: Alright, guys. Everyone loves Dragon Age: Origins. We took everything that was good about Lord of the Rings and Knights of the Old Republic, threw in some interesting characters and a compelling, high-reaching story, and created challenging combat encounters in a fun, interesting new fantasy world. Where do we go from there?
EA SHILL: Mass Effect 2 just sold two million copies in a week.
DL: Yeah, so?
EA: Dragon Age sold maybe 3 million in the year its been out. Mass Effect will get there by next Tuesday.
DL: So…you’re saying you want–
EA: Mass Effect 2. With swords. Get on that.
THE NEXT DAY:
DL: Okay, so what do Mass Effect and Dragon Age have in common?
PRODUCTION DESIGNER: Interesting stories, solid and unique characters, a complete and complex battle system, distinct and instantly recognizable character and world design, and an overstory filled with intrigue, twists, and character decisions with long- and short-term consequences for the player and the world.
DL: So, if we’re going to make Dragon Age 2 more like Mass Effect 2, we should focus on character interactions, a dynamic, open, and changing world, and a strong story with a clear, recognizable villain and a world-shattering, nigh-impossible challenge that drives the player through the game?
PD: In a year?
PD: How about this? Let’s cut corners on every element of what you just said and cover it up by saying it’s for the sake of the story? All that character customization, all those weapons and armor we’ll have to design, test, balance, and strategically place in the world? Nope. All the secondary characters never change their armor, because they’re individuals and don’t need the player to tell them what to do.
DL: Brilliant. And instead of making all these origin stories for all these different races, we’ll cut it down to just one, human story and just write a character that talks–people will rave that we don’t have a silent protagonist, and we have to do a fraction of the work!
PD: And instead of writing a story about a hero, a champion of the world who overcomes and incredible challenge for the good of the land, we’ll just tell a rags-to-riches tale with no clear villain or goal and call it a character study. It’s a decade showing the path to prosperity from a refugee of the Blight to King of the Kingdom! People will eat that shit up, and we don’t even have to bother being creative!
EA: I like the way you think. Go with that. Those nerds will buy it no matter what, and even if you manage to screw it up somehow, we’ll just say “Dragon Age 3 addresses all the criticisms you had with Dragon Age 2, so buy it and see how well we listen!”
DL: Unless Mass Effect 3 sells 5 million copies in its first week.
EA: Well, yeah. Duh.
And I bought it, and I’ll probably still buy Dragon Age 3 on release day because, you know. They’ll fix it, right?