Dragon Age 2 is the latest story driven RPG from Bioware, and is due for release in March 2011. Earlier this week we managed to spend some time with the game. We took the opportunity to quiz producer Heather Rabatich on the importance of story, and why Bioware is one of the few studios that truly allows writers to drive the development process.
Bioware is constantly pushing the boundaries of story in games, and Dragon Age 2 is no exception. This time round the story is driven by a narrator who ritually informs you of the progress of the game’s story – but his account may or may not be reliable, which means that what you are actually playing may or may not be the actual truth.
It’s a narrative technique often used in literature, but it’s the first time that we can remember it being used in a videogame.
“We wanted to do something different,” explains Heather. “We wanted to do something where you could oversee your actions taking place, we wanted to frame the narrative. When you have that third person it’s like a different approach to telling the story. We wanted to give you the depth of a Bioware story, but also give you this narrator who would make things a little more fantastic. It gave us an opportunity to play with that aspect.”
Story is obviously important to Bioware – we asked Heather why, as a studio, Bioware has made it such a focus?
“We want your gaming experience to be memorable, impactful and emotionally satisfying,” claims Heather. “A good story is how that happens. We want to create a world for you, and in that world you can be all these different characters, make all these different decisions and make these changes. If you didn’t have story depth, then those decisions wouldn’t matter. As gamers, when we play, we want to feel something for the characters, and you need to have some depth if you want to do that.”
With game development being as diversified and complex as it is, the value of good writing is often an afterthought – even for big budget AAA titles. How do Bioware get it right, when so many other top quality studios get it wrong?
“In our studio,” explains Heather, “the designers and the writers are together constantly. I can’t speak for other studios, but for us it’s a really close relationship and it has to be. The writers have to work together with everyone to make sure everything is in synch. In our studio the writers are the guys that are sort of putting it all together. They’re pivotal to our process.”
But surely it’s more complicated than that – big projects are measured in years, not months, and with numerous discrete departments working on assets simultaneously, how do Bioware keep everything shipshape?
“Well we have to consider everyone that’s part of the team,” begins Heather. “We have to have the creative director who says ‘stop’! The lead producers all work together very closely. It’s collaborative, but we have to maintain the vision throughout the process and that takes a lot of communication. It’s like a really difficult puzzle!”