Notable Article Quote: Levine’s final thoughts are for the overall way creators tackle narrative. “Figuring out the story is not the hard part. Figuring out how to tell the story is the hard part. What is the interface between the story in your head and for the gamer? A lot of people do it by locking you in a cutscene for 10 minutes and explaining it to you,” he says. “As a writer I am not a fan of that. If you ask people if games are going toward more interaction or less interaction, I think it will be more. A narrative has to do its best to respect that.”
How much “pull” a writer has is going to vary from company to company, as well as from team to team. It depends on the culture of the company, really, as well as the personalities on that particular team—some leads might micro-manage everything, and some people are going to have more or less sway over the direction of the project by virtue of their personal charisma and/or the respect they command, regardless of their individual position.
(See Part 3 here)
A lot of great comments and analysis on the last write-up. I’ll go through a few of the comments here, and then post my amended narrative overview for the quest.
Thanks to everyone who partook— and note that there is no wrong answer when it comes to quest design. I have experience, and I can say what might work specifically for Dragon Age, but beyond that there’s no magic trick as to what makes for a good quest and what doesn’t. This is all trial-and-error, with a bit of judgement and personal preference. That’s game design in a nutshell, though.
It’s a common enough sentiment. I’m contacted on a regular basis by people who say exactly this, and are hopeful I can help them out in some way, give them some advice on how to submit a portfolio, steer them to some information (such as this post), something to help them realize their dream.
I do this knowing most of them will never get the chance— turnover among writers at BioWare isn’t exactly high, and what constitutes a “writer” at other companies can vary a great deal. There are only a handful of companies that have writers who do exactly what we do, while many others either outsource their writing requirements or have people on staff who write as a secondary task.
And of those who do get the chance, they’re very likely to not end up working out. For every candidate we end up keeping full time, we’ll go through several others we had to let go after testing them out. Why? Because writing for games isn’t what you think it is.
(See Part 1 here)
When sitting down to craft a plot for a game (an RPG in particular, though I supposed some of what I’m talking about might be transferable— I’m not sure, as I’ve never worked on anything but RPG’s), there are a few central questions you need to answer. What is the player going to do? What experience do you want the player to get out of the plot? What choices are you going to have?
These are not idle questions. Yes, there is a story— and ideally you’re going to have that story in mind when you start— but writing a game plot and writing a story are not the exact same thing. Many beginners make the mistake of only thinking of a story in the exact same way they might craft one for a novel. They give it a beginning, a middle, and an end… and that would work if the player went through the story in the exact manner prescribed and felt exactly about it what you intended the protagonist to feel… but what if they don’t?
(See Part 2 here)
So I picked through the suggestions. Some good ones in there, a few that could certainly be taken and developed into an actual quest. Some were just the start of a quest. Take this one:
"DAO, Frostback Mountains, Duncan and the dwarf Warden run into an ambush while leaving Orzammar."
Now, the player runs into random encounters all the time in DAO… for this to be an actual quest, it would need to lead to something more than just fighting and killing the ambushers. Maybe the Duncan questions one of them and discovers who sent them, but the player doesn’t get the option to follow up on this until after Ostagar. Maybe the ambush is a distraction, and something Duncan was carrying got stolen amidst the hubbub and now he and the player need to get it back— maybe it’s the Archdemon blood he needs for the Joining? Can’t proceed without it!
So with something like that, it just needs some development and it could be made into a quest plot just fine.
For a few other suggestions, the issue was that they lacked something for the player to actually do… or the only thing that would occur was a conversation. A really simple plot could consist of “go to A, speak with character there” …but that’s only barely a plot, and even less of one if the “go to A” part involves no complication. Does that make sense?
So of the suggestions that remained, I’m going to pick this one to develop:
"DA2, Breaking and Entering, Hawke needs to get a letter to Bethany, who’s locked in the Circle."
No clue if you are even taking questions at this (or any particular) time, but what (if any) are your feelings towards the select few (or many) that have quietly expressed interest in the Iron Bull being a romance option (should he actually be an actual companion)? (Unknown personality aside, these fans seem to enjoy his bulky aesthetic. Any thoughts on that? And yes, I have a problem with parenthesis.) — fan question
I call the period prior to us revealing what romances exist in the game (or, indeed, what actual companions are in the game) to be the “Schrödinger’s Romances” period.
Why? Because prior to us opening that box, a romance could or could not exist with any potential companion. In the minds of many fans, that means it does exist until proven otherwise. Indeed, some people build it up to the point that the romance must exist… and thus, should the box be opened to reveal the romance isn’t there, it will be the same as if we actually took it away. Like maniacal fiends that snatch candy from babies, we deleted the already-written romance from the files. Why? Because we are bastards, possibly racist or homophobic, and clearly because we have it in either for that character or for the fans of that character (because that character not having a romance means they are somehow less than— an attitude which annoys me as a writer, but since expressing my own thoughts can’t be taken here as anything less than a condemnation of those who think otherwise I’ll just say it doesn’t annoy me that much and leave it at that.)
It’s a way of dealing with disappointment, I suppose. Even if some people might intellectually understand that the game isn’t about romance and we’ll never allow you to romance all the characters (and thus some characters are going to not be romances at all), that doesn’t stop them from wanting what they want.
Which is to say that, yes, I’m aware that there are those who have speculated that the Qunari shown in the pictures is a party member— and that there are also some who imagine what a romance with him might be like. Not that I’ve seen any of the discussion, but there will be an element of that with every single character that gets revealed (provided they’re not revolting in some way, I guess). I suppose it also doesn’t hurt that the Qunari is a muscled brute who looks like he could lift you like a feather and bang you two ways from Sunday. ;)
And which is also to say that I’m not looking forward to the opening of that box. Much as some people might find it hard to believe, I don’t like disappointing anyone— not that I’m suggesting you will or won’t be disappointed with regards to this particular Qunari possible-companion, just that the ugliness that inevitably follows the reveal is not my favorite time of pre-release.
It seems to me like the combination of knowing how much fans care disproportionately about romances, and leaving characters’ availability for them in the dark inherently sets people up for disappointment.
Have we ever not revealed that information prior to a game’s release? We just haven’t done so yet (because we haven’t even revealed who will be in the party yet, never mind who one can romance), and thus we’re in that nebulous period where all romance is technically possible.
My personal preference would be to not even reveal who the companions are at all, never mind who’s romanceable and who’s not. Let people discover it (the game is written to facilitate that, after all). I find the insistence— indeed, the seemingly frantic need— of some to almost want to play the game before they play it to be bizarre. It’s like the people following the DA2 spoiler thread you mentioned— their sheer terror that they might play the game wrong, that they had an idea in mind of the perfect experience/ending they wanted and needed to know anything and everything which would allow them to reverse engineer that outcome… rather than just, you know, play the game.
My finding that way of thinking foreign, however, doesn’t mean I think they shouldn’t get to plan their playthrough however they think best. Hence BioWare reveals what we can, in good time.
Unless what you’re saying is that we should be immediately identifying romances the moment a character is even spotted (as in the Qunari’s case), because we know some people think romance is important? I hope not. As I mention above, people are apt to become anxious over almost any aspect they’re unsure of… if the requirement were that we reveal everything the moment we reveal anything, the end result would likely be that we reveal nothing.
Which won’t happen. This is a co-dependent relationship, after all. ;)
The subreddit /r/AskWomen on Reddit asked what video games women were looking forward to: there’s a lot of Dragon Age: Inquisition (and other BioWare games) there, and this mixed in with mostly “casual” games like Pokemon and The Sims. DA, along with Bethesda titles, are highly rated and well-spoken of. With that said, what’s your opinion on BioWare’s role in diverse demographics, and its comparison to other mediums, and how it affects the perception of BioWare as a whole? — fan question
We’ve had telemetry for our games ever since Dragon Age: Origins— and since it’s opt-out telemetry (meaning you have to specifically exclude yourself), we get a sampling size way beyond the level that is usually considered statistically relevant. So it’s good stuff, even if you have to be cautious regarding how you interpret that data— you can find yourself making assumptions regarding why the numbers are what they are, or what those numbers mean, without even realizing it.
So we have good numbers regarding how many players made female PC’s in Mass Effect and Dragon Age. What we don’t know, of course, is whether the players who made those characters are themselves female. Lots of male players make female PC’s (I do it myself, when given the option)… but I imagine the reverse might also be true, so using those numbers to give a reliable estimate of our female player base is dicey at best.
Still, it’s currently upwards of one-third for Dragon Age, and that’s not an insignificant figure.