Following on from part one, Wired.co.uk concludes our discussion of all thingsDragon Age: Inquisition with executive producer Mark Darrah and creative director Mike Laidlaw. Here, the creators discuss how players will continue their epic stories across console generations, ramping up the difficulty while giving gamers more control, and how the critical reception of the latest game affects the team’s latest.
Of Inquisition making the jump to PS4 and Xbox One, which don’t have backward compatibility, how will people’s previous games be integrated?
Mike Laidlaw: We recognized that a core issue that we would face is that there will be a large number of people who have jumped from Xbox 360 to Xbox One or PS3 to PS4. We started with some early explorations on how to do that. What we quickly realized was that a remote solution was the best way to do things. So we built something called the Dragon Age, which is currently in beta. This allows you to build three to five world states. You make them to say “this is a world where Alistair is king and the warden is a Daelish elf, etc.” Dragon Age: Origin And Dragon Age 2. You can build it through an interactive story kind of like Pottermore.
You can also go straight to what we call The Tapestry where we show you all the things we track and you make the choices you want. If your choices invalidate things – Alistair can’t be both king and dead, for example – it will tell you and you must fix it. Than in Inquisition, you log in with your Origin account and it immediately grabs that for free. That’s the world that Inquisition inherit and you play in it. When you start a new game, you choose a new world state that can seize it, however you want.
Mark Darrah: It even helps players who haven’t played the previous games at all. If you really feel like you need to understand what’s going on then the game is designed to engage you so you always know what’s going on but if you don’t want to jump half way into a series then this is a great way to learn what happens in the first two games.
The response to Dragon Age 2 may not have been what you would have wanted. What did you learn or respond to the most?
MD: Criticism of weight is one. Weight is a big, huge thing that we’ve changed. Now you’re not swinging a six-foot foam hammer, you’re swinging six-foot steel if you’re a two-handed warrior.
ML: It has much more impact. We’ve tried to keep the pace and responsiveness of the second game, but some things are a bit slower on purpose. Being able to throw a fireball and pop it, but then have your enemies run away from the area of effect before it hits – all of that works really well. Talent trees were very well received from DA2, while in the original it was like “here are four dots and you can buy rank four after rank three”. People were bored with that. The second had trees that you could customize and walk different paths, which was well received. So those are elements that we took from both games, the skill trees DA2 and the combat weight of Origin.
MD: It is also much more difficult than Dragon Age 2.
ML: It’s more difficult and the tactics are different. You can interrupt the fight to go into tactical mode, see a sniper on a ridge, order an archer to deal with them and a mage to support them. You can even run the entire battle in tactical mode, though PC was the only format it came in Origin. So that’s a huge change. It meant we had to color our powers and abilities to work in both modes so you can read the telegraph and so on. People said “how are you going to do a dodge in a tactical camera?” Well, you press dodge, then put a marker on where you want to dodge to and confirm that. Your character does that when you start time over again.
The team was behind it. I know our main combat programmer was very excited about it. We’ve got guys who’ve worked on real-time strategy games who can tell you all about top-down battle views. The end result is a combat system that I think takes the best out of both games and makes them universal.
Is it a balance of action and thinking time in combat? Does it prefer a certain type of enemy?
MD: Yes, the most important way to think about it is a tool in a toolbox. When you’re in a tough fight, you can take direct control of your followers, or set your tactics to make them go off perfectly. Either you can level up the fight to be better than them, or you can bring awesome gear. You can do all those things. It’s up to you what you want to do, but as you get harder you will have to use more tools. If you’re in Hard mode you might have to use three different tools, but in Nightmare mode you have to take it all, use tac-cam and tactics, micromanage the whole thing AND bring awesome gear AND level the fight too much AND use your talents efficiently.
Is having a greater challenge something that is integral to the dragon age experience?
ML: I think it’s important to have scale challenge because there are players that I think are playing dragon age for the wonder, story and exploration, but wouldn’t like their butts handed to them. We still have the easy mode – it’s not a pure story mode because there are no battles, but it’s not super challenging. We have normal mode, which is a lot like Dragon Age 2. That had some interesting ideas, where you had too many fairly weak enemies that got killed with one shot, but that didn’t quite hit what we wanted, which was more like a pitched battle. If you just throw blows there will be more than you and they will win. We’ve always thought of our games as quite skill-oriented. It’s your spells, your moves, that’s what really turns the tide. They are game changers.
MD: We want normal mode to be a little more challenging than DA2 because that sometimes felt trivial. The problem is that if it feels trivial and you hit a boss, you haven’t developed any skills to deal with tough enemies. We want the normal mode to teach you things like recognize when an enemy telegraphs a move and you shouldn’t be under his giant bat arm because he’ll crush you. Easy will be more forgiving, but on normal you’ll have to dodge, but it won’t be hard to dodge. The team will also help. We’ve taken a look at some of the changes our guys have made Mass effect 3 in terms of how characters interact, and we thought we could make things more challenging, but also keep them honest with things like telegraphy. They also go faster on the higher difficulties. If a man bellows and holds his arm up for a few seconds on normal, he’s just saying “wham!” and you have to dodge as he lifts. You can’t afford to wait.
How open is Inquisition world?
MD: It is an open world with multiple regions. Each of the regions is the size of some of the open world games out there which as a result allows us to have desert, swamp and mountain areas without wondering what a desert swamp mountain looks like if those three are right next to each other.
Going back to Dragon Age 2, the Metacritic score remains quite strong, but the fans seemed to react mostly negatively. What effect did that have Inquisition?
MD: If you look at the story that has been formed around it Dragon Age 2 in hindsight I think you can see that the biggest mistake was that it tried a lot of new things. It had a different story, told in a new way, on a smaller scale and with a different timeline. We wanted more recognizable silhouettes, so we didn’t have the option to change your followers’ armor. Basically we had a laundry list of new things we wanted to try. The real negativity came from that, not that it was bad but that it was different and expectations were not met. They expected an apple pie and we gave them a hamburger.
ML: There were also some objectively bad things.
MD: Yes, at the end of the day, the game was smaller than it should have been. Maybe 25 percent of the areas it should have were missing. There are weaknesses in the game. When we try new things Dragon Age: Inquisition, it’s more focused. When we talked about exploration, it was one big new thing. It’s not 20 small to medium new things. The wire is a bit easier to see.
ML: On a more personal level, it’s hard when people react negatively to your game. However, there are a few things you do. First, remember that this comes from passion and they do it because they care. If they didn’t care, they would ignore you. If they care and they’re angry, there’s something. You have to do a lot of self-examination and see where you think it’s coming from. That’s something we’ve been doing very aggressively, getting feedback.
What was the public reaction to Inquisition for comparison then?
ML: We went to PAX to say “these are the things we think we screwed up” and for the most part those are the things that made people say “yeah, you screwed up!” So our response becomes “OK, we won’t do those things again!” Of course, you also get the classic fan dichotomy of “Why are you asking for help? Don’t know what game to make?” versus “Why aren’t you listening to us?”
I remember volunteering to stand up and talk to the crowd about what would come next. It was quite fun. We had the crowd in there and we were terrified. We didn’t know how it would go. It was 9 pm on the third day. It wasn’t exactly a top-notch lock, but they opened the door and there was a horde! Apparently we turned away 400 people and were put in a room for 1200 people. We realized it was promising or terrifying. I got up and they all burst into applause and I thought it would be all right. The mood was good and we showed people early on what we were going to do with it Inquisition and everyone responded very well. We will try to keep up that good communication Inquisition.