PAX DAY 1 (Friday): Bioware Base Panels Rundown

On Friday, I attended all the Bioware base panels. These are my personal notes collected together for your reading pleasure. If you are interested in the raw notes, please let me know and I may post them down the line.

The “How to Get a Job at Bioware” post is listed here.

The following panels are: Character and Customization in DAI, Art and Design at Bioware, Storytelling at Bioware, and LGBQT Characters

Bioware is placing a lot more options to improve their Inquisitor. Upgrades will improve the characters’ characteristics, while special runes will increase their stats (and even have special effects, like fire swords). Classes will still have restrictions, such as mages still unable to use swords. 

Class Based Armor
Characters will be able to create their Inquisitor’s image to their specifications. Not all classes have one look. An example used in the panel, warriors can play either as a heavily armored dueler or like Conan the Barbarian. Mages can also choose to wear heavy armor.

Bioware hopes to divorce stats and appearance. The devs claim that customization is on an MMO level. Additionally, different materials offer different stats and characteristics.

Armor crafting will not be on-the-fly; your gear will be crafted in centralized areas. Materials can be found across Thedas; more chances to encounter said materials can be found by exploring beyond the “battered path”. You can also kill animals for materials (like the Nug for its skin).

Races, as they always had in past games, will have specific fashion tastes depending on region and culture. Certain armor types, like the gold armor seen in the Dragon Age: A World Unveiled, will be gifted by specific factions. If you do not like a certain item, like the mage helms, the “Hide Helm” feature is coming back. (However, the devs have expressed their attempts at making sure all the clothing/armor will be stylistic and to your liking.

The Writing Process

  1. Write the first pass
  2. Collaborate with level design, cinematics, and level art teams. 

    Is this okay? What needs writing? Characters are designed from the start, but may change throughout the process.Levels change multiple times to suit gameplay, in order to equalize the mood with the environment.
  3. Back to the Writers’ Pit

Collaborative Writing
Writers work with the Cinematic designers extensively, which is about 80% of the effort. They work as a team towards one goal, producing on demand and schedule. 

The Necessities and of Game Writing
Gamers need guidance. While writing books exerts easier transitions and subtlety, game writers have to force players along the plot.

Example: “Hey! I need you to go to this specific location and talk with this specific person. Then, go find the object. Take said object to this location and give it to this other person.”

Writers balance the need for direction with the number of objectives. A little bit at a time.

Writing to Keep the Player Going
Devs want you to keep playing, even after death. If you’re not on nightmare, they want to make sure the experience is the least frustrating as possible. In order to keep the mood and maintain engagement in the narrative, they balance the drama from point A to B.

"Our Story is Your Story"
Games meet the fans half-way. Even if the guts aren’t the same, it’s your character. Choices are made to keep the character true to the narrative, as much as possible.

One topic briefly mentioned was the idea of the Inquisitor having children. “I’m not sure if a kid is appropriate to the story.” Sometimes, certain things are wildly inappropriate to the narrative. Other times, it works.

"Varric will never be in dirty rags. Maybe silk rags."

Design Process

  1. Design the mechanic 
  2. Test it
  3. Run by the writers to see if it works within the lore

Storytelling through Art and Design
Two types of storytelling exist: explicit and implicit. Explicit tells the story through obvious means that are told to the reader. Implicit requires the players to piece together elements of a level to discover and reach a story.

For example, the devs explained Aveline’s apron. While fleeing Lothering in DA2, Aveline wore an apron. The story behind her outfit was to describe that she was either blacksmithing or tending to her weapons. She was in the middle of her daily life when she had to flee. It was characteristic of her strong disposition. We see her as a warrior, not some Orlesian wallflower.

Implicit storytelling can be told with many different elements, including: local architecture, psychology of a culture, structural damage (the example used during the panel was a hole in the roof with a corpse dangling). “Topology builds history” by estimating the logical placements of towns and fortresses. Of wildlife and destruction. All these elements satisfy need and space, giving a voice to the environment.

Frostbite and Technical Possibilities
Originally, Frostbite 3 is a FPS engine. Bioware added many RPG elements to not only work for Inquisition, but specifically for upcoming, unnamed titles (which they had fun alluding to and not telling anything about). 

The idea is to push the technology as much as possible, while maintaining a realistic perspective of what can be accomplished within the time frame. It’s an ongoing negotiation. They don’t want to limit the character and its possibilities. Frostbite has opened new opportunities to enhance the narrative by driving the visceral experience.

Off Topic
A character from Origins will change their appearance, based on their experiences since DAO to DAI. This character is currently unannounced.

(CORRECTION: I had originally stated “drastic” in the first pass of this article. As I noted on Twitter, I don’t even have that word in my notes. I wrote this rather rushed, and while that’s definitely not an excuse for misinformation and inaccuracy, I apologize for the misleading adjective. Thank you Matt Rhodes for correcting me.)

"I messed up Traynor."
Patrick Weekes originally wrote Specialist Samantha Traynor of Mass Effect 3. His original plan was to create a lesbian character which surpassed the stereotypical “titillated" hot lesbian action and pushed for a more inclusive character. He wanted to have a character not defined by her sexuality; but in the initial character write-up, that’s what she became. A blank character.

Eventually, he wrote her to be a nerd. She liked tech; she liked chess. She had an expensive toothbrush. Her character grew into something wholesome - a realistic character.

Steve Cortez: The Husband
Dusty Everman, level designer and who built the Normandy to what we know today, was in charge of creating Steve Cortez. Originally not a romanceable character, Steve became the embodiment of ME3’s main drive: sacrifice. He made Steve a man of grief, affected by trouble and war. He later became a romanceable character for male Shepards only.

The Masked Empire
Patrick Weekes humbly, graciously, and elegantly plugged his next book Dragon Age: The Masked Empire for release next July 2014. Two of the main characters are Empress Celene of Orlais and her handmaiden/spymaster/elf/lover Briala. His main point was to illustrate that in Orlais, no one cared that they were the same sex and in love. Orlesians only give a damn that they’re of different classes. Same sex love is considered normal - just another part of life.

Kaidan and Ashley 
The writers considered how Kaidan and Ashley were approached as love interests. With Kaidan’s character, he seemed more appropriate as a bisexual. It fit with his personality and his demeanor. However, Ashley did not fit the bill of being bisexual. It didn’t fit her character, so the writers opted out.

Kaidan, Again 
According to Patrick Weekes, Kaidan was never supposed to be a romance in ME1. Both Shepards (voiced by Mark Meer and Jennifer Hale) voiced the entire script. The fear was that if the devs didn’t have the voices recorded, it’d be very hard for them in production. And very expensive.

Transgendered Characters 
They like the idea of having a main character being transgendered. Currently, Dragon Age’s lexicon is still being worked out. There’s always the opportunity, but it doesn’t currently exist. Yet.

Why Isn’t Everyone Bisexual?
Scope is the hardest part of utilizing bisexual romances. It is the cause of limitations for why some exist, some are straight, and some are gay. Additionally, character is first - if their character seems to not be attracted to a certain sex, the romance will be exempted. While some fans like the idea of being able to romance everyone, sometimes it just doesn’t fit.