Bioware has been making multi-format RPGs for a while now: Mass Effect, Jade Empire, KOTOR were all released on PC and console. But when Dragon Age began development early this decade, it was first and foremost a PC game.
Indeed, the original vision was very much of a PC RPG in the vein of Baldur’s Gate. Fast forward over five years since it was first announced at E3 2004 and Dragon Age – now subtitled Origins – is launching this week on PC and Xbox 360, with the PS3 version following in a fortnight.
Bioware’s Greg Zeschuk told me his team actually had the game running fairly early on console, even before they had decided to release a console version.
“One of the things we presumed correctly,” says Zeschuk, “is that if you think you might ultimately do a console version then you always want to have some console work going on. Otherwise you could dead-end yourself in a really scary way.”
Co-developing Dragon Age on PC and console, as well as the experience Bioware accumulated thanks to the aforementioned Mass Effect, Jade Empire and Knights of the Old Republic, changed the way they develop their games. For the better, argues Zeschuk.
“The influence of the console versions has been beneficial on our PC development side,” he says. “Consoles have often had a higher level of expectation for accessibility than the PC has. I mean, the PC has been that platform where you could have an incredibly complicated interface and gameplay that would be embraced by a certain segment of the market.
“So we would always have this ability to not really refine or distill our systems down to their essence; instead you just do some really, really detailed and crazy stuff. The irony being that in certain places, like central or eastern Europe, they love that; it’d be their ultimate game.”
The purity of the console interface, to borrow Zeschuk’s own term, in the sense there a fewer buttons and potential inputs, has forced Bioware to go down that path of refinement and distillation. The result is that not only does Dragon Age: Origins play perfectly well with a PS3 or 360 controller, the PC interface is less fussy and convoluted than in previous titles.
Even so, Zeschuk believes Dragon Age is their most PC game since the Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights era.
“Our games still have PC roots and we sometimes find ourselves retrofitting,” he says. “Dragon Age is more retrofitted than Mass Effect, which was more of a core console game. Even KOTOR was more of a hybrid. But it’s what we’ve learned from those games that has allowed Dragon Age to be portable [to other platforms]at all.”
Which version of Dragon Age are you planning to pick up?