Events / Gaming

NYU Game Center talk unpacks storytelling secrets of ‘Dragon Age: Inquisition’

Freddie Prinze, Jr., one of voices of the video game, was even there.

David Gaider of BioWare discusses the making of Dragon Age: Inquisition. (Photo by Brady Dale)

Dragon Age: Inquisition is a game of principles. That was one of the points driven home during a recent talk at the NYU Game Center, featuring three key members of the game’s creative team.

The game is the third installment of BioWare’s Dragon Age franchise. The Game Center talk explored the company’s approach to storytelling, and did so by letting each member of the panel chose a sequence from the story that meant something to them.

Games as a means of storytelling is becoming a major topic of conversation, with video games getting closer and closer to achieving mainstream acceptance. It was a major theme of last spring’s TWO5SIX conference.

Dragon Age: Inquisition only came out in November, so this game is still pretty fresh. It’s a high fantasy roleplaying game, somewhat in the spirit of D&D or Skyrim. Check out the trailer below.

NYU Game Center Director Frank Lantz led the discussion. He opened it with thoughts on the game, which he’s been playing. “I still feel there is kind of an old-school vibe with this game,” he said, describing a human element despite the game’s intense production. “This is not a game that leads you by the hand,” Lantz said. “A lot of triple-A games are kind of over-designed.”

The conversation featured Mike Laidlaw, BioWare’s creative director; David Gaider, lead writer; and Freddie Prinze, Jr., star of I Know What You Did Last Summer who also voiced one of the game’s characters for free.

Here’s a few of the standout takeaways from the talk, which you can watch in its entirety on Twitch, below.

  • Laidlaw said that you get some of the best facets of a game when someone on the team is really willing to fight to hold onto it.
  • A major theme of the talk was about how things get cut as a game gets built. It happens for storytelling reasons, technical reasons or player experience reasons. Every team suffers a lot as the game gets made.
  • There are certain principles to the game, Laidlaw explained. Such as: everything comes at a price, history is mutable and nothing is certain. These go back to the first game, Dragon Age: Origins.
  • Laidlaw also said it’s important to start a game by thinking about what the team wants the player’s experience to be. For this game, he said, they wanted you to “immerse yourself in a vast world of companions, choices and consequences.”
  • One of Laidlaw’s favorite aspects of the game is the character who stands in for the voice of bureaucracy while the character the players play are taking action to save the world. He said this character, a sort of cleric, was thought of by the team as the same as the guy in Ghostbusters who comes to shut down the ghost containment unit.
  • Gaider said that he wrote the initial lore that became the crux of Dragon Age: Origins, and BioWare accepted his first draft of the basic concept after giving him its initial spec for the game concept.
  • This game’s script had 750,000 words in it (which doesn’t count the books written to supplement the game). The prologue got rewritten seven times. A lot of stuff Gaider really loved got thrown out.
  • “Unless you know the particulars of the writer involved, nothing should sound like it was written by a different writer. It should have a flow like it’s all written by the same person,” Gaider said. That said, writers take the lead on certain characters or chunks of lore. For example, Gaider took the lead on Dorian and was also the staff expert in the game’s elf lore.
  • Three games in, the history got so huge that they had to bring in an editor to build a wiki, figure out which chunks of lore were outdated, whittle it all down to what was current and then help the editorial team understand what was there and change it. The editorial team had to “fact check” the broad fiction of the game, going back through all three.
  • Prinze talks about how he grew up when games were made hard to get your quarters. Now, games are made so you can’t lose. He says, “So when you play me in multi-player mode and I kick your ass, that’s why. Don’t feel bad about it.”
  • Prinze did the game for free because he’s a big gamer and excited to be part of the project. He voiced Iron Bull, as a sort of Winston Churchill mixed with other stuff.
  • Prinze talks about the importance of BioWare’s games as ones where the actions your characters take have real consequences, that you will care about, as a player. “These are the type of games that effect the way other video games get made,” Prinze said. Adding that works should be considered important when they cause cultural change, that is, changing how others do things. He said BioWare’s games brought the same threat of hitting a page that says “The End” prematurely that kids his age grew up with reading Choose Your Own Adventure books.

On a technical note, Laidlaw says the dev team switched game engines halfway through, which both increased possibilities but also created challenges. They switched to Frostbite 3, which was good at explosions and water but not saving and miles of dialogue. That said, the engine also made it possible to make the game a more open world.


Companies: NYU Game Center
Series: Brooklyn

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