The worst kept secret at Bioware is that Dragon Age III is in production. Today, franchise Executive Producer Mark Darrah makes that all official-like with an open letter. Given the lack of any detail to speak of whatsoever, there’s not much to report here. Here’s the most relevant bits from the letter.
So here’s what I can confirm for now:
The next game will be called Dragon Age III: Inquisition.
We won’t be talking about the story of the game today. Though you can make some guesses from the title.
This game is being made by a lot of the same team that has been working on Dragon Age since Dragon Age: Origins. It’s composed of both experienced BioWare veterans and talented new developers.
We are working on a new engine which we believe will allow us to deliver a more expansive world, better visuals, more reactivity to player choices, and more customization. At PAX East, we talked about armor and followers… Yeah, that kind of customization. We’ve started with Frostbite 2 from DICE as a foundation to accomplish this.
You check out the rest here, if you’re so inclined.
After the break, however, I can offer you an NHS-exclusive look at the main Foozle in DA3! (Yes, this is an excuse to make you click through to see something that is decidedly not the main Foozle in DA3. It’s worth it.)
Obviously, this article will contain many spoilers regarding Mass Effect 3 including details regarding its fantastic, divisive ending. So if you do not want to know that the Illusive Man is Shepard’s father, that Shepard was dead and a ghost the whole time, or that FemShep was actually a fully-featured man then I suggest you turn back now. If you’re not sick of hearing about Mass Effect 3 and the ending, which includes the shocking revelation that it’s only a video game, proceed.
I actually wasn’t a big Mass Effect fan until the second game. I played through the first one late in 2009, and I thought it was OK, suffering from some terribly clumsy design elements and of course those god awful Mako sequences. I rushed through to the end and that final, idiotic battle with Saren. I don’t regret avoiding most of the sidequests. I thought the game was OK, but the entire time I felt like I ought to be playing Knights of the Old Republic again.
But Mass Effect 2 hooked me. I loved the story, effectively a “let’s get the band together” yarn filled with specialist characters each with their own unique stories to tell. I loved that the game was episodic, with each mission wrapping up with a debriefing from the Illusive Man. This structure enabled the game to encompass many genres within a science fiction context. There were hard SF, courtroom drama, horror, detective, and political thriller stories. And the sense of fatalistic doom hanging over the inevitable suicide mission at the Omega Relay was delicious. Planet scanning, not so much.
So Mass Effect 3 has come and gone, and sure enough it’s another BioWare game and all that entails. For better or worse. It was a good game. In parts, like the sequence on Rannoch and the events in London, it was great. The scope was huge, and I liked that it was very much a game full of endings. You meet old friends, catch up, and either they die or they go on to better lives depending on the choices you make. There’s tragedy, pathos, hope, and ambiguity abound.
I thought the ending- at least as far as the story material goes- was great. No apology. I’m happy that BioWare went with a more thoughtful honest ending to Shepard’s story rather than the fireworks and medal ceremony. I wiped out the synthetics, which was a tough choice given that I had championed the Geth and spent the entirety of the third game teaching EDI how to be more human. But in the end, I felt responsible for the annihilation of the Quarians and Tali’s death so it seemed to be on balance. I rejected the idea of controlling the Reapers because I viewed Shepard as almost Captain Ahab-like obsessive, constantly pursuing the white whale Reapers.
But still, the entire time I took that long, slow walk to make the ultimate decision of the Mass Effect games, I reflected on everything that had happened up to that point. I thought about Liara, Garrus, the Rachni Queen, and the themes of the game. I thought about how cycles are a very big part of the story- cycles of racism, political discord, evolution, order (paragon) and chaos (renegade). I loved that the writers gave me the time to think before wiping out the Reapers- and presumably killing Shepard in the process.
In retrospect, I liked that the Reapers were a very Lovecraftian antagonist. They were the Great Old Ones, and the Illusive Man was very much like one of the misguided cultists in the Mythos that believes he can control or somehow contain cosmic forces beyond human comprehension. I liked that much of what they did or do is off stage, and there’s a mystery about them. I liked that the only way to beat them was to make an impossibly grim, no-win decision in the face of absolutely catastrophic devastation.
I don’t think the ending was sloppy at all, at least in terms of writing. I didn’t need the Return of the King epilogue, and I didn’t need an extra 20 minutes detailing what everybody did afterwards. Do you really need to be told? The story that matters- Shepard’s- ends with the decision you make. Nothing else matters from a storytelling perspective. What’s up with the jungle planet at the end? Who knows. It’s up for debate. I do have to say that I assumed my squadmates, who were almost always Liara and Garrus through the entire game, died in the run-up to the Citadel. But there they were with Joker at the end. The ending reminded me, rather strangely, of a post-apocalyptic picture called The Quiet Earth, and I think the ending as a whole was very reminiscent of some of the more challenging, thoughtful endings in the science fiction literature and in science fiction films.
What I did think was sloppy was how the concept of marshalling the galaxy’s races, technology, and materiel was largely irrelevant at the end, other than unlocking some other potential options leading up to the proscripted end. I don’t think BioWare really had a handle on how to incorporate that into the endgame at a mechanical level. Which is a shame, because I can imagine a component where you’re assigning resources and moving units around throughout the game to fight the Reapers. Almost a strategy game-within-a-game. But I’m sure budget and time prohibited anything so extensive.
Instead, we got BioWare’s trademark “kill a million bad guys” ending. This has been in the last several titles they’ve released. You and your party have to slog through wave after wave of enemies in a run-up to a final confrontation. It’s tedious. Please don’t do this anymore.
In reflection, I think the series as a whole represents some very good world-building and some frequently great video games writing. I love the look of the game, its hard-edged futurism. I love the music. And there is sometimes some good gameplay, but I can’t say that I’ve ever been completely enthralled by the action, regardless of all the cool guns and Biotic powers. It also seems like every single one of the games has some critical misstep or component that either doesn’t work or I just don’t like. Sidequests and filler content abound, and the insistence on silly romantic subplots and bizarro sex scenes come very close to making the series a joke.
I’ve heard Mass Effect called “this generation’s Star Wars” and I think that’s a little hyperbolic- at least until I recall this generation’s actual Star Wars films, which are bottom-of-the-barrel, cynical trash made by a creator that completely lost touch with his muse. Maybe they are after all. It’s good pop sci-fi no doubt. Definitely not something to get worked up in a tizzy over if you don’t like the way it turned out.
As for your choices- no, they didn’t matter. They never did. It was BioWare’s story all along. You were playing a video game, not writing it. Hats off to BioWare’s writing staff for retaining ownership. I just hope that their employer protects their integrity and artistic judgement by not fouling up the ending to suit the needs of entitled fans.
Now, with that said, I’m putting this series to rest and I never want to hear about it again. Good night, Shep. Garrus, hit the lights on the way out, would you?
Today Bioware co-founder Ray Muzyka took to the Internets to drop the official Bioware position on fan and critical reaction to Mass Effect 3’s ending. The whole comment is worth reading, but this is the part, I presume, that made my Twitter feed explode this morning:
Building on their research, Exec Producer Casey Hudson and the team are hard at work on a number of game content initiatives that will help answer the questions, providing more clarity for those seeking further closure to their journey. You’ll hear more on this in April. We’re working hard to maintain the right balance between the artistic integrity of the original story while addressing the fan feedback we’ve received. This is in addition to our existing plan to continue providing new Mass Effect content and new full games, so rest assured that your journey in the Mass Effect universe can, and will, continue.
Most every critic I follow has absolutely skewered Bioware for supposedly caving to fan entitlement and changing the ending for the game. I actually feel for Bioware here. It’s the classic damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario. Personally, I’ve read the full statement three times and it’s not at all clear what they actually intend to do so I think the more prudent move here is to withhold judgment.
Incidentally, I have my full thoughts on the game’s ending, and the surrounding silliness, going up first thing tomorrow. You know, just in case the 1,463,352 other stories about it on the web weren’t enough for you.
This is fast-becoming one of the damndest scenarios I’ve seen unfold in this business.
Ah, Dragon Age, the series that we here at NHS love to hate and hate to love.
Dragon Age was a modern return to an older school of BioWare design. We all loved it.
Dragon Age II…
Barnes loved it. Truly loved it. I still have no idea why. Todd and Brandon both were lukewarm but for different reasons.
I despised it — to the point where after reaching roughly the halfway point I was done with it forever. I cannot remember the last BioWare game that, even if I wasn’t loving it, I had no desire to finish it. (The Star Wars MMO doesn’t count.) Dragon Age II was that game. Even today it remains a terribly polarizing title.
Mark Darrah, Executive Producer of Dragon Age II, posted this on the BioWare forum about the future of the series (well, sort of) and while the post I found somewhat bland the responses to it on the forum were fascinating.
With last week marking the one year anniversary of the release of Dragon Age II, I wanted to take the time to share some news and some great milestones we’ve had lately with Dragon Age. And though I can’t say too much, I also want to briefly address what is coming in the future.
First, I was delighted to hear that the Dragon Age brand has passed one million “Likes” on Facebook! This was an incredible reminder for me, and our entire team, that there are a lot of you out there who are invested in the franchise and who want to explore the world more. From all of us, I want to send a massive thank you!
Next, the latest and greatest patch for DAII is out, addressing a number of the issues you have helped us track on our tech support forums. Thank you again to those of you who took the time to submit feedback in order to help us make the game better.
And finally, while we will still be keeping an eye out for any issues that might crop up in DAII and supporting the community should any emergencies should arise, we’re moving the entire team’s focus to the next phase of Dragon Age’s future.
You’ve most certainly heard the rumors floating around, and unfortunately I can’t really comment on them. However, what I can say is that we’ve been thinking a lot about Dragon Age – what it means, and where it could go. This past year, we’ve spent a lot of time both going back to the “BioWare vault” of games and re-examining them, and looking at some new possibilities that today’s industry allows.
With that, the next thing for the Dragon Age team members and I to do is hear from you, and not just on the forums, or Facebook, or Twitter. We’ll be attending a number of conventions and gatherings, including PAX East in April. The most valuable thing we can get out of those meetings is to hear from you on those same topics – what does Dragon Age mean to you, and where would you like to see it go? We’re excited to hear what you have to say!
On behalf of the entire team, we are incredibly eager to reach the moment when we can tell you more and show you where we are taking Dragon Age. But for now, thank you for your continued support, and we will be back here with more as soon as we can.
That’s a fairly nondescript way of saying: We’re done with DA2 DLC and we’re move on to Dragon Age III. Scan the replies of that post and you see a lot of people thrilled with how the sequel turned out and a lot of others who say things like this:
If you want to know where to take the series, it’s simple: Do another Dragon Age: Origins. Pretend Dragon Age II never happened. All else aside, the sales figures make this perfectly clear.
(At last count DA:O outsold DA2 by over a 2-1 margin.)
What I find amazing about the replies to that post is that people who seemingly hate Dragon Age 2 are still posting on the Dragon Age forum a year after the release of the game. There are things that people do on the internet that I will never, ever understand.
Dragon Age III (or whatever it’s called) is going to be an extremely important release for BioWare at least so far as fantasy rpgs are concerned. I hope they can get the series back on track and far away from whatever they were trying to do with DA2.
I was going to ignore this story because there’s nothing that bores me more in this industry than rumor mongering, but when the name Baldur’s Gate is attached it’s hard not to sit up and pay attention. Then GameBanshee did a little legwork and it got a little more interesting. First, if you head over to BaldursGate.com and inspect the code behind the page you’ll find the following…
The code was updated again a day later, with this:
First: Yay, Boo! I live for references to Boo! Miniature Giant Space Hamsters For The Win!
Yes, I know. I have a problem.
Now, when I first read the original snippet at another site, entirely out of context, I thought that could more less mean anything, but that was because the original story I saw neglected to indicate the updated date at the top nor that the webpage itself was new. Then Game Banshee spoke to former BG designer Trent Oster, now of Beamdog (oddly, a digital distribution platform), and confirmed (for those willing to read between the lines) there’s something up and it’s nothing to do with the games coming to Steam.
So, it could be a new game. It could be a refresh of the Infinity Engine. Could be an iOS port. Could be they’re all just jerking us around. I dunno. I’m not totally sure it’s not just Bill playing an extremely well-planned and orchestrated prank specifically on me. He’s been known to do that… from time to time.
Although I am no super-sleuth about this stuff –who has the time?– it’s impossible not to notice the last line in the code invites users to check out the tapestry for clues. Said tapestry (which I assume is the background on the webpage) consists solely of character portraits from the original Baldur’s Gate. I’m firmly in the camp that thinks this will be some kind of remake of the original or new platform (iOS) release.
So the question is, does the world need either of these things?
I can tell you, for my money, it’s an easy “yes.” You put the original game on iOS. Sold. You remake the game from scratch. So long as it doesn’t look like it’s going to suck, I’m gonna play it. Take the Infinity Engine and HD-ify it some way. Yeah, I’d probably play that too. It’s Baldur’s frigg’n Gate. You had me at “hello.” I’m not the rest of the world, though.
What you can bet is that we’ll have a good indication of what faith whichever publisher is actually attached to this has based on what it turns out to be. An iOS port just means, “Hey, we think we can get a few bucks out of this.” So does an quickie up-res’d remake of the original game. A from scratch remake says there’s a lot of faith in what the Baldur’s Gate name represents and what can be wrung out of it. There’s also publishing rights to consider. I don’t know who owns the ability to do what with this franchise anymore. As far as I know, and according to RPS, Atari still holds the rights to Baldur’s Gate. I did a quick Google search to see if I could confirm just what Atari really owns here: The rights to everything D&D? The rights to the original game code? The right to specifically publish anything with the BG name? I came up snake-eyes on anything specific, but the Baldur’s Gate series wiki does have the following:
On February 7, 2010, in an interview about Mass Effect 2, IGN asked Ray Muzyka of BioWare about the future of Baldur’s Gate, noting the sighting of Boo in the Citadel souvenir shop. He replied, ‘Hey, that’s just a space hamster. Boo’s brother. And again, you’ll have to talk to Atari about that, they’ve got the license.’
If Atari is at the helm of this thing you almost immediately have to look at it with a skeptical eye. Sorry, but it is what it is.
For what it’s worth, I think these games could work really well on an iOS format. You’ve got very little voicing necessary, mostly just the engine and heaps and heaps of text. Touch and dragging on the screen ought to work with the pausable real-time combat model, although precision might be an issue, and certainly character and inventory management shouldn’t be particularly challenging to implement. Certainly nostalgia alone would drive a lot of people to try the game out on their iPads if the price were reasonably fair. I know I would, though I wouldn’t place odds on my finishing the game.
That said, would there be quite so much teasing going on for a port or “HD” remake? This has the smell of something a bit bigger. I hate getting caught up in hype that’s obviously crafted specifically to play on people’s warm fuzzies for a much beloved franchise, but dammit, it’s working on me.