PAX Prime

PAX DAY 4 (Monday): Bioware Base Panel Breakdown

PUSHING TECHNOLOGY
Gaming is shifting and expanding to an environment built for the gamer’s physical experience. Games can be more physical with peripherals (tablet apps for First Person Shooters, cloud computing across platforms) or literally physical like the Oculus Rift. The Oculus shows good, initial promise for pushing the gaming experience. Hopefully, games will push towards experimentation in gameplay.

(Note, however, that Inquisition will not have Oculus support. A third-person view in a third-person environment is too “anachronistic” to the immersion that Bioware seeks for players.)

Facial-expressive detection technology that exists, such as Peter Molyneux’s Milo and other emotionally-reactive games, is possible in a few years with next-gen technology. Possible, but needs games to push.

CAPTURING THE AUDIENCE
Places like GOG.com are revitalizing older games for consumer consumption. Today, more distribution channels exist. Gamers have a freedom of choice to buy games from multiple sources, even from the developers themselves. Kickstarter and Steam’s Greenlight help developers find the core audience and evaluate worth. 

Game prices today are broad; indie games average around $10-15 while an AAA title is about $60. Competing for gamers’ money isn’t the issue - it’s time. In a day where free-to-play games and MMOs with daily quests grab the immediate attention of gamers, the return on investment for players is more important than expense.

MONETIZATION: NOT A BAD THING
People have to eat. Many methods of entertainment exist for monetization: movies, Youtube, books, etc. The term has turned inherently evil in the social sphere; however, if a company or group cannot continue to sustain, games and other creative drives may falter. Many venues besides games exist and while game companies can release a game every few years, the lore and worlds can continue to persist. 

INQUISITION AND THE RPG EXPERIENCE
Inquisition strives to become a real, hardcore RPG experience that immerses players in the meta-fiction. The plot is a study of flawed characters, lost in the self. Self-absorption is not sustainable; one must rise above and set aside personal desires for the overall goal. 

Devs brought up the “uncanny valley,” describing the interesting character development and visual fidelity for Inquisition and other RPGs. DAI’s characters aren’t photorealistic people, but consistent in the world they exist inside. Is it fun? Is it immersive? These points attribute to the success of an RPG. 

(OOC: The developers feel the difficulty slider is not enough to create depth in the challenge.)

BIOWARE AT PAX
Back in PAX 2012, Bioware’s panel was so overwhelmingly well-received that they decided to do it again. In most cases, providing new information is typical of E3 or Gamescom. Instead, they wanted to show off Inquisition at a consumer event. Namely, of course, PAX.

Although they compressed a lot of footage for the media, Bioware wanted to let the fans see and share the Inquisition demo first. Media hated it - they were still under embargo until the end of the Saturday panel. But to BW, sharing with the fans was priority.

THE PAST IMPROVING INQUISITION
The developers dubbed Inquisition “The Successor of Dragon Age: Origins.” Obviously, this hints a specific notion. Although Dragon Age 2’s responsiveness was noted and implemented into the next game, the scope is to have Inquisition as a huge improvement. As mentioned in previous panels, this huge shift and movement towards improving DAI (the year delay, gameplay improvements, return of playable races, etc) was because of the fans and their feedback. For that, they’re happy that they’re able to place all their ambition and ideas into the next game.

FROSTBITE
Bioware continuously praised the Frostbite engine the entire weekend. The devs explained Inquisition as the “realest piece of code” they have ever made. No smokes or mirrors. The devs noted how “satisfying” to have moved from multiple toolsets to Frostbite, where everything is concise and permits more freedom. Though they had difficulty implementing RPG elements like conversations into the engine, now it’s streamlined for ease of use.

CONSOLE SUPPORT
As mentioned before, Inquisition will release on all the following platforms: PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, and PS4. Xbox 360’s version will not be as powerful as PC and the next gen consoles, considering the amount of horsepower needed to load the massive areas. However, it will still look beautiful.

Also, in a funny turn of events, Mark Darrah forced a promise mid-panel that Inquisition on PC will support controllers and offer a different interface.

THE DEMO
Inquisition’s demo was not meant to show specifics, but intent. The devs divulged different bits of info, including:

  • Players will experience a lot less load screens, by transferring from one massive zone to the other
  • Huge opportunity for synchronous combat. (Example: One warrior stunning, one attacking during the stun, mage crowd-controlling)
  • Voice actors in-game are tentative, but most likely the actors for the final game
  • Tactical camera was nothing more than an idea, up until 8 weeks ago

Beyond the demo, a few more details were described:

  • Can throw grenades
  • Dynamically named and translated ring names. For example, “Ring of Pyre” instead of “Ring”
  • While everyone knows about horses as mounts, more specifically, the devs assert that you will be getting a “mount”
  • Armor has specific sounds when you shrug and trees dynamically creak
  • Inquisitor can walk away from conversations, which will also feature interactive banter

And...Chris Bain.

PAX DAY 3 (Sunday): Bioware Base Panels Breakdown

Sunday was a very relaxed, wonderful day. The panels focused on Q&A interaction and the audience asked a lot of insightful questions. Unfortunately, I could not personally cover the Women in Gaming panel. If you’re interested in the panel, NerdAppropriate is uploading all panels (audio only) within the next couple weeks. However, I did cover the following panels:

  • Dragon Age: Inquisition - Playable Races
  • Product Feedback
  • Heroes of Dragon Age: The Mobile Game
  • Meet the Team Leads from DA: Inquisition

THE QUNARI
In designing the Qunari, many extreme qualities and ideologies were pulled into the design of the Qunari. Many cultures close to oceans and seas, including the Japanese culture and middle eastern concepts of war, influenced the race’s background. 

In Origins and DA2, specific Qunari characters were limited for budget reasons. Specifically for Origins, one Qunari character was Sten. DA2 was the Arishok. Inquisition will feature a character named the Iron Bull, and (if you choose to play as one) a Qunari Inquisitor. If you choose to play as either a female or mage Qunari, the issues of either type and the Qunari’s culture will definitely be brought up in DAI. In many cases, a Qunari Inquisitor will be ostensibly standing there with the look of “I’m not supposed to be there, but I’m the Inquisitor.”

BLOOD MAGE INQUISITORS
The devs were very disturbed by the idea that being a blood mage happened at the press of a button. While they wanted to show the circumstances revolving that choice, it never surfaced in DA2. For Inquisition, they are investigating how to make a blood mage threatening again “from a player perspective…through a bunch of different means.” They don’t want a button press; your choice should have significance.

LOCALIZATION
Accents and voice overs are extremely pertinent to the authenticity of their characters. For instance, in Orlais there are recognizable class differences regarding how eloquent or colloquial a person speaks. Education levels are very distinct in the dialect. Some languages have high form and low form, which addresses formality. Many character insights can be drawn strictly from the voice.

The team utilizes GEOPS - a group that looks for red flags, in order to make sure the game is fitting for distribution in other countries. An example used was the idea of avoiding the show of someone drowning in a game in Japan, considering the Japanese tsunami that happened years ago. The content has to fit within the region and be acceptable to be inclusive of all players in order to join.

APPEARANCES AND ATTRIBUTES
Appearance options are currently under “investigation”, like the unconfirmed idea of Qunari beards with braids in them. Additionally, the hour glass bodies for females are being investigated (think a triangular shape, like an Olympic athlete). Qunari horns versus non-horns are to be determined.

Animations will be determined by class. Racial abilities are to be investigated.

BACKGROUNDS
Each race has a background, but not multiple blurbs of background. We can see a similarity to Shepard, where he comes from a specific past that may be drawn out within the course of Inquisition. The devs are investigating different background tracks; some surnames are already released, where some like the Cadash have history (Shale’s family name) and some will make history by the time Inquisition ends.

However, these backgrounds will not shape your character. Inquisition and your decisions will define you. Where you come from will not be as significant as the choices you make.

OFF TOPIC: ELVES
During the Q&A portion, one asked about why elves are barefoot in past games. While they did not have shoes, the reasoning was that they felt more connected with the world around them. The Dalish were more aware of their surroundings. Plus, the elves had it easier not worrying about buying shoes.

The Product Review panel consisted of Chris Bain and Jessica Merizan, giving a general overview of different products through Bioware and asking for feedback on items that fans enjoyed or disliked. Although most of the panel was on products, Chris Bain did note that a main protagonist from Dragon Age: Asunder will be present in Dragon Age: Inquisition. 

Here are the highlights:

  •  In storytelling, Bioware has 100% control on products. While they try to plan the books around the release of the games, it is very difficult since most of them are the actual devs double-working on both (i.e David Gaider, Patrick Weekes)
  • Nothing to report on the Mass Effect movie with Legendary pictures, as it is very early in the development
  • No plans for a Mass Effect RPG tabletop like Dragon Age. The team is presently focused on the game.
  • The Mass Effect hoodies were a bunked idea. While a Tali protoype was made, and not impossible to make, it was not functionally possible. The original artist was notified about it. (And many of the panel audience voiced their disappointment over it)
  • A Mass Effect Minecraft skin pack was first shown at the panel. News of the pack for September 4th was released shortly after the panel. The skin pack includes Liara, Male Shepard, Female Shepard, some weapons, Cerberus Troops, a custom map, and many more.

The upcoming mobile game “Heroes of Dragon Age” features a squad-based combat game that allows players to play through different time periods within the Dragon Age lore. The lore campaigns are not chronological, in order to allow different playable missions throughout the lore at will. The game is not confirmed to sync with Inquisition, but some fans present at the panel voiced positives towards the idea.

Heroes of Dragon Age stays true to being a free-to-play game. While you can use experience to gain more heroes, the game offers the chance to buy Recruit, Warrior, and Champion packs to expedite and improve your experience.  You can also use runes to improve your stats for a limited duration, like a rune that gives you 10% power for 10 minutes. 

Each character is part of a faction: light, dark, or mixed. These colors indicate the level of corruption a character has, and can offer some power bonuses for using specific compositions of characters. Some characters featured include, but are not limited to: Cassandra, Anders, Duncan, Charred Sylvian, Abomination, Orsino, the Architect, Arishok, Carver, Enraged Spirit, Heart of the Many.

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The Panel Leads:

  • Mark Darrah, Executive Producer
  • Cameron Lee, Producer
  • Mike Laidlaw, Creative Director
  • Jacques Lebrun, Technical Director
  • Steve Gilmour, Animator
  • Matt Goldman, Art Director

The panel was heavy on Q&A, drawing on past experiences and looking into Inquisition details.

DAI: MULTIPLAYER
Dragon Age: Keep, the alternative transition for saves and past choices, is the only (announced) online experience present for Inquisition. An actual multiplayer was not announced or discussed during the panel. In another panel, the Keep was reported to be accessible even at owrk, so you can make your character and then go home to play.

CHARACTERS OF THE PAST
My personal question to the devs was if they had any regrets on the choices they made with past characters, or whether they would change any or not. Mike Laidlaw noted how they just have to be satisfied with the artistic choices made - in the essence, “put down the eraser.” One thing they do worry about is the fact that they have many Schrödinger’s characters that may or may not be alive. It is difficult to continue continuity, considering the mortality of some characters are very different from one player to another’s saves. Mark Darrah noted that because they are in that situation, the comics now have to use a certain canon (i.e Alistair as king) instead of a canon-neutral storyline. Because of those types of characters, they have a few less choices that could have returned as companions or permanent threats. 

DA2 VERSUS INQUISITION
In short, Inquisition would not be at the scale it is if Dragon Age 2 weren’t created the way it was. Despite the tough, uncomfortable decisions made during DA2’s development, the feedback and the game itself maneuvered the franchise within EA and the competitive landscape to have more breathing room. 

THE INQUISITOR AND THE INQUISITION
The original question was why the Inquisitor was chosen as a protagonist, given the connotations of Inquisitor as evil or an “overlord.” For the developers, the Inquisitor and the Inquisition are not inherently evil; the Inquisition itself is a “word of power” that has an existing strength in its name. They used the Inquisitor’s name in order to shape an organization that has discovery, exploration, and leadership covered.

CHOOSING VOICE ACTORS
Voice actors are chosen quite early. For each actor, devs capture early samples, see how they work with the team and director, and evaluate whether they can capture the voice needed. Additionally, the concept artists try matching the voice to the art in order to create a core style. All the major voice actors are tentatively hired, such as the Inquisitor of the demo, but it is possible that they can be recasted if necessary. Matter of fact, they’ve done that a few times already. 

LONG-TIME COMING
Two things that Inquisition offers that took a long time to include are conversations you can walk away from and mounts. 

Escapable conversations took a long time to implement. Back after Jade Empire, a prototype was made to offer real-time role playing. However, it was prohibitively expensive with all the break points and conditionals. Mass Effect managed to do this with their interrupts, where they seamlessly engage.

As Mark Darrah noted, mounts have a very special, weird, dysfunctional thing within Bioware. It took a very long time to get people behind the idea. Nevertheless, they are very happy to hear how positive the fans’ reaction was when Bioware introduced mounts.

PAX DAY 2 (Saturday): Bioware Base Panel Breakdown

It’s past 4AM. Let’s get Saturday broken down for your viewing pleasure, shall we?

For the “Dragon Age: Inquisition - An Introduction to the Inquisition” panel, please see its individual blog post. 

Bioware wants to make more challenging combat and more integral strategy.

TACTICAL CAMERA
The original tactical camera that is featured for PC players will now extend across all platforms for Inquisition (Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4). 

AI
Creatures will behave smarter and in roles. It’s like playing chess; each piece will fulfill its role. Some will interact with others and behave in a group. Some will flank, while others will target specific classes such as mages.

The party will support you and react smarter. Even after you command your companion to do a certain ability, depending on their class, they will work together with other companions and play off strengths.

DESTRUCTIBLE ENVIRONMENTS
Specific elements within the level can be destroyed. While retaining the active environment is important (which is why they will never make everything destructible), they choose to have interactive elements in order to achieve different objectives or help with specific enemies. One example is having an ice wall block between to points, to make a barrier.

ABILITIES
Freeze -> Hit Him -> Shatter

The developers want logical pathings with magic and other abilities to mesh well. Freezing a character should make him incredibly fragile. By hitting the ice block, the enemy dies. More abilities like this will be featured in the next game.

EXPLORATION
The biggest thing on exploration is the need to give consequence to actions. While there may be 3 bandits on the road, they are still three bandits you may sacrifice health for. Considering you may not be well equipped, it could actually be a strain to take on those enemies (despite that there are experience points for the taking). It’s risk and opportunity - you are given the tools, but how well prepared you are will challenge your need to level and progress.

BALANCE
The developers fine-tune many things, including enemies based on a number of conditions: quantity of enemies, difficulty, and the number of enemy classes (3 warriors versus 3 warriors and a guardsman, which makes the encounter twice as hard). 

"Dragon will own you" Because enemies do not level up with you, you can put a pin on the map to indicate where dangerous foes are and can come back to them when you are more prepared and at a higher level.

RANDOM BITS

  • Stupid red barrels with explosives in them are being phased out
  • Potion quality increases with alchemy and rare herbs

The panel “Making Your Mark” was centered around the idea of the Inquisitor reacting to his or her world. In Dragon Age 2, Hawke was a reacting character. You did the best you could with the events that came to be. But now, nations will watch your every move as you gain more power. You are a force of nature within the world. 

EXPLORATION
Mike Laidlaw says that there is a “fundamental joy” in creating a ridge and running to it. Exploration is a necessary, powerful thing in DAI. The narrative is so important for growth of a character, and pushing discovery to become a mechanic best shapes the world.

THE INQUISITOR
Respect: Players will see a slight difference between human, elven, dwarven and qunari Inquisitors. Some will be distinctly treated different, such as elves as a lower class or Qunari as a constant, not-to-be-trusted enemy. Mike Laidlaw noted how a quest will be very difficult to gain a specific ending, in comparison to a human or elf. Like the Warden, despite normal stereotyping between races, Inquisition soldiers and other nations will progressively see you as “The Inquisitor” and ignore your race.

Classes: No Dwarven mages. Bioware is sticking to the core classes. They may expand in the future, but the time is not now.

Races seem to have a specific racial bonus. Qunaris may have a statistical advantage in magic resistance. Mike Laidlaw joked how it shouldn’t be 5% but 20%.

DOING IT RIGHT
"Not going to talk until we’re ready to talk" is the way the developers are pushing. Many questions were raised, such as whether characters will have a specific background (like the human nobles or Dalish elves) and vocal dialect. They will not give the choice for multiple backgrounds, unless they can do it right and have voices varied. 

RANDOM BITS

  • A sword that looks like a tuning fork (two blades attached to one base)
  • "I can’t come up with something we can’t make in Frostbite" - Matt Goldman
  • Players are completely allowed to look the same throughout the game, but progress in stats