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Dragon Age 2 – “think like a General, fight like a SPARTAN”

Bioware’s Robyn Theberge on PC and console differences, the action-strategy balance and forum feedback.

By Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, November 10, 2010

Ah, Dragon Age: Origins. A love letter to fans of the rickety old PC dungeon-crawler, laden with twenty-first century blood spatter and side-boob. Bioware’s most popular title to date, the heavy-duty fantasy RPG has sold well over three million units worldwide, and its expansion packs do a brisk trade on Xbox Live and PSN. The sequel, which charts the rise of glowering beardy-face Hawke from refugee to regional legend, will shear away a few of its predecessor’s knottier features, hopefully leading to a more pick-up-and-playable experience. We caught up with Development Manager Robyn Theberge to discuss specifics.

Hi Robyn. This might not be the best way to start the interview, but what do you think of Fable 3?

You know what, I haven’t played it!

I just ask because BioWare seems to be heading in a very Lionhead-ish direction with its RPGs – the key features haven’t so much been changed as “digested”, arranged in a more intuitive way. How far do you think you can follow that approach before the underlying complexity of your game suffers?

We’ve kept a lot of those core values, especially on PC. On consoles, we’ve definitely moved into more of an action-based RPG just so, you know, we’re going to quarry that line, between the core group and the [casual] people. We want to sell videogames. We want to appeal to as many people as possible. And that was one thing with our feedback – we have forums, we have a ton of great fans and we definitely listen to them, and respond to their desires and what they’d like to see, what direction they’d like to go in. And that’s where a lot of the key changes that we’ve made to Dragon Age 2 have come from.

How severe are the differences between console and PC versions?

You still have the full tactical menu on the console and the ability to switch between party members – put them on the enemy over here, and then you’re going to attack this person. They’ll follow all your commands – you can think like a general but you can fight like a SPARTAN now too on the console.

I think there’s just more variation now between PC and console on Dragon Age 2. I didn’t work on Origins so I can’t speak to their decision-making on that. But on Dragon Age 2 they just wanted to appeal to more people, add more combat in for those who wanted it, keep the tactics for people who loved the game and loved that about our games, but take it to another level as well.

Do you think it’s possible that Bioware might release entirely separate Dragon Age games for PC and console?

Same story, different versions?

I mean completely different games, set in the same world.

I don’t know, I’m not really privy to those kind of decisions. I think they’re just committed to making good games. They have a lot of dedicated fans, they’ve been in the business of making RPGs for 15 years. And they’ve really coined their look and design, and I don’t think they’ll vary from that any time soon. But as to making variations, I couldn’t speak to that. I know The Old Republic they’re just doing PC, but I don’t think that making two versions… I couldn’t speak to it.

There's apparently much less of a "dice, pen and paper" feel to the quasi-real-time combat in Dragon Age 2.

You’ve presumably been privy to focus tests for this game.

Yeah, it’s been everywhere. It’s not just focus tests. Our forums are incredibly busy at all times, our fans are incredibly vocal. And we listen, we hear, and we have made adaptations. Of course we can’t adapt everything, there’s a bunch of reasons why certain things can’t be done.

One of the things you’ll see in this game that’s directly from the forums is one of the followers, who we’ve already introduced, Aveline – she’s a very powerful female warrior. And that was something the forums were asking for, they wanted a powerful female warrior. Because we haven’t really seen that – Origins had Morrigan who is a powerful mage – and they needed an outlet.

Were you surprised by any of the forum requests? Was there anything which cut against what you thought you knew of the first game and its audience?

Not really, nothing that surprised me. I think everything has their own ideas and their own experience with the game, so we had to take perspective into account and how people played the game into account. It’s definitely a tricky subject, trying to determine those things.

Last question. We now have PlayStation Move and Kinect knocking around, which present interesting possibilities for games, like traditional RPGs, that might otherwise be constrained by the absence of keyboard and mouse. Could you see either of those control schemes being integrated into Dragon Age 3?

I couldn’t comment on that.

Is that “no comment” as in “yes, but we’re not talking about it yet”?

No! It’s as in “I don’t know, I haven’t heard anything about that, and I wouldn’t be privy to that decision-making either”. I work with development teams, I’m not in the senior leadership room. I work more specifically with content teams, the lead designer, so that would be a question for them.

Thanks for talking to us, Robyn.

The game’s out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on 8th March in North America and 11th March in Europe.

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