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PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Dragon Age: Inquisition interview – on fan feedback, romance, returning characters and the open world">Dragon Age Inquisition 1

The Dragon Age series has evolved in a tumultuous fashion since Origins. The switch from the world-threatening crisis of the first game to the personal stories of Dragon Age 2 proved too great a shift for some fans. Inquisition will again take the series to a grander stage. An open world with dynamic keep battles will bolster the central story, which sees inquisition led by you recruiting aid aid to postpone an imminent apocalypse.

How else will Inquisition differ from its predecessors? What have Bioware learned from fans of the series? How will they correct the awkward savegame bugs that could bring characters back to life, and how have they chosen your companions for the new adventure? Chris spoke to executive producer, Mark Darrah, to find out.

PC Gamer: What has creating this new protagonist, the inquisitor, given you the opportunity to do or change that you couldn t have with the warden, or with Hawke, or with a previous Dragon Age lead?

Mark Darrah: One of the reasons that we ve decided to do that in the Dragon Age series is that it lets us explore a lot more themes. Hawke s story, it s not done, but the most important event of his life is essentially what s happening in Dragon Age 2. With the warden from Dragon Age: Origins he carries a lot of very divergent baggage. Anything from he could be dead to maybe there s a kid in the picture, maybe he s actually ruling Ferelden with Anora.

He s a very difficult character to proceed with because the universe is in very different places based on the events of the Dragon Age: Origins. Just reflecting those changes in the future games is a big challenge. To actually have him as a playable character is just it would tie our hands too much. It would require us to make a story that was too constrained.

When we started this franchise, what we really wanted to always be doing was telling the story of the world, as opposed to the story of a single character. When we have a character, these events are big and world-shaking. We basically are trying to tell the story in the best way possible, rather than trying to have an arc for a single character.

PC Gamer: What is different about the inquisitor? In each case, the player puts a tremendous stamp on who they are. Hawke is not necessarily the warden. They have specific ways in which they have their own identity.

Mark Darrah: Because we re going back to full races there s going to be a significant difference in background between the different potential inquisitors. In Dragon Age: Origins you are a member of the wardens, but in a lot of ways you are the last surviving warden or at least the last surviving warden on the ground when he s needed. I mean Alistair is there.

PC Gamer: Yes, apart from Alistair.

Mark Darrah: Apart from Alistair, who doesn t want to pick up the mantle for his own reasons.

PC Gamer: Sure, of course.

Mark Darrah: In Dragon Age 2 Hawke is really a leaf in the wind. The story is very much about him reacting to the world pushing on him. In this case it s much more about putting the inquisitor at the head of an organization that you re reestablishing. This isn t about being a Jedi, this is about founding the Jedi order.

You re definitely much more of an actor. You re the tip of the spear. You aren t waiting for the world to act upon you. You are acting upon it, both because you have an organization at your back. This gives you greater reach. You re not walking into a camp and begging for help. You re pounding down the gates of a castle and demanding that they come onto your side.

Also, surviving this calamity has actually given you powers that other people don t have. You have a remnant of this explosion in your hand that actually allows you to close these fade rifts that are around the world. This gives you additional influence on the world and additional ability to demand respect, demand that people listen to you, because you can do something no one else can. You can actually put a stop to this.

PC Gamer: It s a new direction for the narrative, but it sounds like there are a lot of echoes of who the warden is. You re still a part of an organization that s almost neutral, a third party to a lot of the conflicts in the world. Also, having something about yourself that allows you to interact with evil in a particular way.

Mark Darrah: Yes, that s a very good observation. In a lot of ways the inquisition is similar to the wardens in that way. Something stands apart or above the politics. It does what needs to be done to fix the world essentially. One of the overarching things of Dragon Age has always been that people do bad things, but for good reasons and that it takes someone outside of the situation to do good things in that situation.

Loghain in Dragon Age: Origins is someone who is doing something bad, but he s doing it because from his perspective it s the right thing to do. To him, Orlais is ultimately a bigger threat than the blight. He can t allow the Orlesians to come in to help. As the warden in Dragon Age: Origins, you re standing apart.

This is that taken to the next level. This is you. Everything is just too chaotic. There s a civil war mixing up Orlais. Someone needs to come in to do what needs to be done. In this case, more than in Dragon Age: Origins, there s the hints and the scent that there s a public master behind this. There s someone that s tugging on the string and maybe pushing the chaos a bit farther.

PC Gamer: Was the reasoning behind coming up with a new faction then so the players could maybe put their own spin on it and determine more about it? For example if you tried to tell this story starring a warden commander then you would be bound to that previous amount of the fiction that s already been established.

Mark Darrah: Yes, very much so. The wardens are as we ll go into Inquisition to some degree they have one purpose: to fight blights, To fight darkspawn, to fight blights to a fanatical degree. To this is their purpose, they will do nearly anything in order to do that.

We ve established a lot of this and there s a certain amount of expectation set up from Dragon Age: Origins. We re not done with the wardens, but yes, they have limitations from how they can be used.

PC Gamer: Sure. I was going to ask, just to broaden the range a little bit, you guys have had a big presence at PAX. I wasn t there, but it was interesting to observe. Obviously, really substantial and a big substantial fan response to it as well. I guess two sides to that. One, why is that important to you and two, has it been useful now that you re going into the rest of development?

Mark Darrah: Yes, we did have a really big presence at PAX. We have a continuous presence. We have a base where we have a very much, a very personal connection to the fans. Then PAX Prime, last year we did a huge stage presence. It s been very helpful. It s very important from my perspective to keep in touch with our fans, to listen to their concerns, to stay in contact with them, to give them an opportunity to provide us with feedback.

The other thing that I think that this venue does is it gives them an opportunity to see us as people as well. We only have an opportunity to communicate electronically. It s very easy to see Bioware or any company as a single monolithic entity, that there are no people in there.

Trade shows, especially things like PAX which are very fan-focused, are very good for making that connection, directly, one on one with our fans. It s very important. We do take it back. It s very energizing for the developers with a huge presence at PAX PRIME, I think there was 30 people there from Bioware. It s just very good to see the response. I think to some degree it s very important for the devs to see the gamers as people as well and not the faceless masses on the forums.

PC Gamer: I was going to ask, how much you guys feel like you have to react to your fans, to what they want, and how much freedom you have to lead them in almost any regard, from the small decisions you re making to scoping out the future of the series and everything else?

Mark Darrah: It s a little bit of both. From a small feature perspective things like control schemes and the way that the narrative or the way that the conversation works and stuff like that, that s where we take a lot of feedback. That s where we re very much, I think people have a clear understanding of what they want and what they don t like.

The danger is most people, myself included, aren t perfectly objective when they re playing a game at the higher level. Henry Ford has a famous quote. If we asked people what they wanted they d ask for a faster horse. There s a certain amount of truth to that.

Part of our job is to go out into the wilderness to go farther beyond what the players have seen, what they ve played and essentially light a torch so they can see what could be and then hopefully they ll want what we re presenting. That can be uncomfortable. That can result in concern because obviously what they re comfortable with, what they ve played before isn t completely what we re delivering.

In the case of Dragon Age: Inquisition I think there is a core there. I think there is a core Dragon Age game at its center. I think that comfort still remains, but we will be pushing you, we re challenging you with some new things.

PC Gamer: It s interesting, from an outsider s perspective, it always seems like Dragon Age undergoes quite a radical transformation game to game. That wasn t the case in Mass Effect, even though obviously things were improved and changed. The scope of the game maybe didn t change so dramatically. Why has that been the case do you think?

Mark Darrah: In a lot of ways Inquisition has been the game that we ve really wanted to make from the beginning. From a systemic perspective Dragon Age 2 is actually very similar to Dragon Age: Origins. Its bones are the same, but we ve put a very different outfit on top of it, for a lack of a better term.

Dragon Age 2, we decided we want to try something, to try to do very different storytelling, something much more personal, something much more tightly constrained. No chosen one, no clear overarching threat. I don t think it was a perfect success, but that was intentional.

A lot of the other changes that are perceived, the overall scope of the game or the perception of the combat getting a lot simpler or waves and things like that not intended, exactly. That was supposed to be more evolutionary. I think we just overreached. We pushed too hard.

Because of Dragon Age 2, Dragon Age: Inquisition is having to be a lot more ambitious, to address those concerns and really try to get back much more to the roots of the franchise. Much more about tactical combat and a higher level of deliberate difficulty. More clear overall story, with the moral choices still in there, but much more in vein of Dragon Age: Origins style storytelling. You re right to ask. The goal wasn t to revolutionize the series every single time, but Dragon Age 2 forced our hand to a certain degree.

PC Gamer: I was going to ask about the structure of the campaign. I ve read as much as I could about how you have some choice about where you go and the order you complete tasks and how you go about doing things. How does that specifically differ to the traditional Bioware RPG of a couple of years ago where you have four things to do in the world, and you do four of them in whatever order you like. How is that different in this game?

Mark Darrah: In Dragon Age: Inquisition there s essentially two axes of what s happening. There s the steps you need to take to deal with the breach in the sky, to uncover who s behind it and ultimately to stop them. The steps to do that are relatively clear. You can do them in different orders, but they re relatively clear.

The second axis is that in order to do some of those things you need your inquisition to be strong enough to demand attention. If you re going to go and try to get the Templars on your side, for example, they re not listening. You need the inquisition to be strong enough to force that meeting.

That s where that broader sense, that broader exploration sense comes in because the way you empower your inquisition is through doing the things that only you can do. Through spreading your presence throughout the world, through closing fade rifts around the world, through going and dealing with the problems in the larger exploration areas and really just digging in and doing what needs to be done.

Then, when you ve done that you can go and engage with the parts of the story that are going to directly attack the problems, the overarching problems. You ve got two things to do. You ve got your critical path and then you ve got a secondary need to strengthen up your inquisition in order to proceed on the critical path.

PC Gamer: It s primarily the influence of the inquisition that divides the story up into acts or whatever.

Mark Darrah: That s right, that s a good way of looking at it.

PC Gamer: In terms of adding these, correct me if this is a wrong interpretation, but it seems like Inquisition is moving towards something more like an open-world game, or even strategy in some ways.

Mark Darrah: I think, definitely, we re trying for something that has a very open-world feel. The one thing that I ve experienced in a lot of beautiful role games that I ve played has been that when you start to disengage from those open-world systems there s nothing to come back to. Often, your last experience, just as you got bored with the game and wandered away.

In our case we want to make sure that that core, that critical path, is compelling, is strong, it s got a strong magnetism. As you disengage from the open-world you have something to reengage with. You have something drawing you through to see how it ends.

PC Gamer: There are choices in the past. You mentioned one earlier, the state of the warden, who can be dead, and obviously something that has come up with fans quite a bit, in Awakening the zombie warden scenario. Is that something you've addressed in Inquisition?

Mark Darrah: Yes. There s a couple, the zombie warden was just a stupid decision on our part I d say. We should have just not let you. We decided, if you want to play awakening we should let you use your warden. Well what if they re dead? We ll let you bring them back to life. We should just not have that.

PC Gamer: I made a new warden.

Mark Darrah: There s a couple of other things though. One of the big reasons for creating the is the save games of the previous two games. In Origins in particular are messy and full of bugs. Zevran is a good example where you can kill him in Dragon Age: Origins and then in Dragon Age 2, those flags aren t set properly in the Origins saves, so the game doesn t realize that Zevran s dead and just basically brings him back to life.

That wasn t an intentional retcon on our part. That was actually a bug. This lets us go in and finally get those states in just something that s actually correct.

PC Gamer: In addition to fixing that stuff, do you have freedom to clarify? I suppose in some cases what fans are looking for is not necessarily for this singing or dancing cut-scene resolution to something that s been hanging, but just something to explain how this happened or how that came together?

Mark Darrah: Yes, there will be a little bit of that. Leliana is brought back to life even if she dies at the Temple of Sacred Ashes. I m not sure that we ve provided enough information as to why and what s happening, what went on there, why that s possible. Yes, this is an opportunity for us to give a little bit more context and explain what s actually going on.

PC Gamer: Fair enough. What is your criteria for determining which characters do come back? Actually, not simply from the dead, but I mean from game to game. Why would Varric make the cut and not somebody else?

Mark Darrah: That s a good question. Some of it s based on just what the writers are excited about writing. But also, we look for a certain amount of balance between the character. There s a bunch of things that we re trying to do for balance. You want a certain degree of balance between the classes. You want a certain amount of balance between the genders and then a certain amount of balance between the romance options.

If you ve had a character in a previous game that was a romance option typically we won t bring them back because they carry a lot of extra baggage with them. You re not going to have a romance option come back and certainly not have them be a romance option again because there s a lot of baggage that comes with that.

The player might get angry as well. But they re in love with my previous character forever and ever and ever. How dare you? I think there s validity to that. You can start to cross off a few characters because of that. We often don t bring back characters, at least not as followers, if they were previously romance options. You might see them. Alistair comes back because we can do cameos and have them have an influence on the story.

But additionally, some characters, Varric s a very good character because one of Varric s primary motivations is he s the guy that s got your back. He s your friend. He s a very good character to have because it s good to have someone in your camp no matter what. That makes him a very attractive character. It makes him an interesting character to have because he offers a nice counterpoint to a lot of other kinds of characters.

The other thing that causes us to bring someone back is someone that we re just simply not done with. That the arc is incomplete. Isabella between Origins and Dragon Age 2 is a good example of that. We introduced her, but there s just a lot more to be done with that. That s actually usually how we choose. Often characters move. We don t reuse followers very often. Obviously, we are reusing Varric. We typically promote secondary characters between games.

PC Gamer: Right, so someone graduates from being a quest-giving NPC to being a companion.

Mark Darrah: Yes.

PC Gamer: I read, recently, I think it was something that came out of PAX about diversifying the types of romantic relationship in the game. I was going to ask if some of that thinking also applies to friendship as well because obviously it s a type of relationship that people have with the companions that s not necessarily binary.

Mark Darrah: Friendship I think is I think we ve become trapped by that, the word romance. I think friendship is I actually regret that in Dragon Age 2 we didn t have essentially that kind of bromance with Varric. He s not a romance, but he s, you can hang out with him and be your bud and have that same kind of depth. Some of our, what we would traditionally call romances in Dragon Age: Inquisition are falling more into that camp where they re not they re more in that friendship area.

PC Gamer: Thank you very much for your time.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

This year? THIS YEAR? Why was I not told of this? (I was. It’s just that I have the memory of a Leveson Inquiry witness these days). Yes, fantasy RPG sequel Dragon Age Inquistion is due this Autumn/Fall, and much as Bioware have some faith-rebuilding to do after the double-whammy of Dragon Age II and Mass Effect Ending-Gate, I really would like a big, fat, indulgent, glossy RPG on my hard drive right now. Will it be Dragon Age Not-III? The trailer below, which focuses on Frostbite 3 engine-powered environments, suggests I will at least be cooing at its surface. … [visit site to read more]

Announcement - Valve
The Steam Holiday Sale continues today with huge savings throughout the store! Check back often to take advantage of our eight-hour Flash Sales. You can even help select what goes on sale with our Community's Choice Voting Sales.

In addition to Flash and Vote sales, more than a hundred games and apps will be featured as Daily Deals throughout the sale, with new deals popping up every 24 hours.

Today's Daily Deals include:

Participating in the 2013 Steam Holiday Sale will also earn customers exclusive Holiday Sale Trading Cards. Collect, trade, and craft 10 Holiday Snow Globe Cards that can only be earned during the sale. Every craft of a Holiday Sale badge will also generate a random item drop from 10 participating Free-To-Play games, featuring exclusive in-game items from Warframe, Path of Exile, Team Fortress 2, DOTA 2 and more. These items are both tradable and marketable.

Learn more about this year's Steam Holiday Sale features HERE.

The Steam Holiday Sale will run until 10AM PST, January 2nd. Complete information on Daily Deals, Flash Sales, Community Choice Voting and more can be found HERE.

PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Battlefield 4, Mass Effect 3 and SimCity among Origin’s Black Friday deals">Origins

I'm starting to realise it would be easier to list the distributors not currently holding a Black Friday sale. Even so, we'll give Origin the spotlight for a second. After all, their sale does have some good discounts on a selection of EA games, and, let's be honest, people are hardly going to check Origin's store page unprompted. Now you've had that prompt, head over for up to 66% off certain games, including 40% off Battlefield 4.

Not all of the games are cheap cheap, largely thanks to Origin's launch prices being... well, "premium" would be the diplomatic way of putting it. Batshit insane would be another. Still, there are a few nice prices to enjoy:

Battlefield 4 - £27

SimCity - £22.50

FIFA 14 - £28

Battlefield 3 - £6

Battlefield 3 (+ Premium) - £14

The Sims 3 - £15

The Sims 3: Expansion #1-23,462 - £Various

Crysis 3 - £6

Dead Space 3 - £6

Mass Effect 3 - £4

Mass Effect Trilogy - £16

C&C: Ultimate Collection - £10

Dragon Age: Origins, Ultimate Edition - £10

Dragon Age 2 - £6

Origin is being a touch temperamental right now, but you can try your luck by visiting the sale page.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

Quick, quick, before it’s pulled!

Unless> of course this is a clever marketing ruse, wherein giving the impression that this half-hour of in-game Dragon Age 3-ing is somehow illicitly-obtained makes everyone frantically watch every second of it. WE ARE BEING TRICKED DON’T WATCH THIS VIDEO WHATEVER YOU DO (more…)

PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Dragon Age Inquisition preview: fortresses, friendship and the Fade in BioWare’s open world">DAI Inquisitor at Outpost Scaled

After a long period of relative silence, information is finally creeping out about the shape and state of BioWare's next major RPG. I saw Dragon Age Inquistion at an EA event in London earlier in the week, the same information that will have - as of the time this goes live - just been revealed at PAX. Here's a rundown of my first impressions of the game - which, although it's more than a year from release, is looking far more fleshed out than I expected.

Plot and companions

Inquisition is set a few years after the events of the two previous games. The world is in the middle of several wars - civil war in Orlais, and the ongoing conflict between the mages and Templars - that are snowballing into one another: kind of like a fantasy World War I. At the start of the game, a massive dimensional tear opens between reality and the Fade - the dream dimension that is the source of magic and that you'll have visited once or twice if you played the previous games. In order to find out who is responsible for the fade tear, a new faction is formed with your character as its leader. This is the Inquisition, and the way it is founded reminds me of the description of the founding of the Grey Wardens - a trans-national pact to solve a problem that each individual faction can't solve by itself.

In the first game you were the Warden, in the second you were the Champion, and in the third you'll be the Inquisitor. You'll be able to choose your race from human, elf, dwarf, and - for the first time - qunari. BioWare weren't willing to spill any details on how your characters' origin will be fleshed out beyond that.

There'll be a range of companions, and BioWare stressed that this involves a "significant returning cast". The in-game demonstration confirmed the return of Dragon Age 2's Varric - the dwarven rogue who narrates the game - and Cassandra Pentaghast, the Chantry Seeker who interrogates that narration out of him. The fourth companion shown was Vivienne, an Orlesian mage who, based on a snippet of in-game dialogue, was once First Enchanter of one of the Circles there.


Combat is still based on a four-person party, and you can still control any individual member as well as pause time and zoom out into a full top-down view. The impact of spells and melee strikes inherits a lot from Dragon Age 2, but what I saw had a greater sense of weight and impact - there were no arbitrarily exploding torsos, for one thing. The new game has been built in the Frostbite engine, and environments are partially destructible. We were shown a wooden bridge being destroyed to send some archers tumbling to their deaths, and smaller scenery items - barrels, barriers etc - can be blown up or cast aside by magic.

Tactics - the system by which friendly AI behaviours can be programmed - will return, and full friendly fire for magic will be an option for players that want it. Interestingly, health regeneration will be very limited: adventuring for any length of time will mean bringing healing supplies with you or having a mage with the right abilities on hand. It's nice to see these kinds of hardcore mechanics making their way back into mainstream RPGs, and it seems like a natural fit with the size of the world BioWare are creating.

Finally, content in the game won't scale with the player's level. This means that certain encounters or areas will be off-limits until the Inquisition's power grows. As someone who feels that scaling difficulty creates as many problems as it solves, I'm pretty excited about this change.

Conversations and consequences

Conversations are still dialogue-wheel based and the player character is fully voiced. Honestly, it looks a lot like Dragon Age II - but one cool new feature is the way that each option on the wheel has a corresponding tooltip offering more information on the potential consequences of that decision. The choice we were shown involved a party of injured guards wandering a road during an attack by a splinter faction of Templars. The player could order them to stay where they were, help a local village, or defend a nearby Inquisition keep.

Once you've made one of these decisions, it's up to you whether you try to mitigate their negative effects in the open world. You could, for example, tell your allies to abandon the village and then go and save it yourself - or tell the guards to stay with their wounded and attempt to relieve the siege single-handed. I like the degree of flexibility it suggests, as well as the way it'll hopefully force player decisions to result from the game's mechanics ("I don't have enough healing items to do this alone, I need these guards to help me") rather than a simple desire to play one type of hero or another.

The world...

...is looking big. Specifically, bigger than Dragon Age: Origins. Three years of development time and a decent budget look to have prevented DAII's geographical limitations from resurfacing. The game will be split into multiple large areas with each area containing a number of towns, fortresses, caves and dungeons. There were no loading screens within these zones during the demo I was shown, but there will be some kind of load when the party moves from one zone to another. I was shown an area in Ferelden that included a large lake as well as a desert area west of Orlais.

The broad area that the game will cover includes Ferelden, Orlais, Nevarra and the Free Marches. The map I was shown didn't extend as far north as Tevinter and Antiva or further south than Ferelden's Kocari Wilds. If you're a fan familiar with Thedas' layout then that should give you some idea of the scope, though I don't know exactly how many of these open-world zones there will be - nor how the game will handle cities. Nontheless, it feels fair to say that it's looking pretty big.

Each area has a number of fade tears - smaller portals to the Fade that the player will be expected to close. Think Oblivion Gates, basically, though what exactly is involved in closing a tear wasn't revealed. In Ferelden, one of these tears is in the middle of a lake - one solution, the devs suggested, involved using a nearby dam to permanently lower the water line.


It seems like every province will include a fortress or two, and one of your main objectives when you arrive in new territory will be to claim an Inquisition stronghold. The presentation suggested that this will involve a range of side objectives - poisoning water supplies, etc - followed by a brief siege. Once you've captured a fortress, it'll change to reflect Inquisition ownership and the kind of outpost you want it to be. We were shown designs for a military fortress, an espionage centre, and a merchantile trading hub. Each will have its advantages and drawbacks and they'll additionally affect the kind of organisation the Inquisition will come to be - unlike the Wardens, whose identity is set in stone, you'll have some say over whether the Inquisition comes to be a merciless fighting force or something more subtle.

Taking a fortress then gives you access to a strategic metagame where you spend Inquisition agents to affect change in the world. The ones we were shown involved rebuilding monuments, opening paths to new areas, and establishing resource-gathering buildings to help with your crafting and alchemy. It made me think a little of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood - a great open world game in its own right, and an influence I'm happy to see cropping up in a different genre.

Also, dragons.

BioWare seem to be really proud of their dragons. There'll be a fixed number of these in the game, and it sounds like they'll act as massive boss fights at the culmination of certain areas. They seem a little bit clumsy - they have a tendency to fly leg-first through pieces of tactically scattered ancient ruin, sending bricks and debris in their wake - but it's nonetheless very impressive. The brief segment we were shown reminded me of the original CGI trailer for Origins, where a dragon battle was a long, mobile, multi-stage affair. Here's hoping that some of that energy makes it into the actual game this time. In any case, expect to be shown BioWare's impressive dragon over and over again in the long year before release.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Dragon Age Keep lets you shape your past in Dragon Age: Inquisition">dragonagekeep

Save files are a fickle thing. Sometimes they’re exactly where you need them to be, but more often than not, they’re lost. Gone. Listlessly floating in the ether of your hard drive while caught between various planes of existence. BioWare has realized saves are lost more often than remote controls, and has created the Dragon Age Keep to make your past Dragon Age saves irrelevant.

According to a recent blog post, The Dragon Age Keep is a tool for both new and returning players to choose which actions they made (or would have made) in Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II. You can decide who lived and died, who your previous lovers were, and which roads you took to accomplish the task at hand. All this information is stored in the cloud, allowing people to revisit decisions that left them with a weary heart.

As for those who actually have their saves neatly tucked somewhere in their computer, BioWare was a little more vague, saying it would have more to say about the process in the "months to come."

Those interested in trying out the Dragon Age Keep for themselves can apply for the beta, though the post mentions participants won't cross the drawbridge until early next year.
Announcement - Valve
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*Offer ends Thursday at 10AM Pacific Time
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to GDC 2013: BioWare’s David Gaider asks, “How about we just decide how not to repel women?”">photo (2) copy

Dragon Age Senior Writer David Gaider gave a talk at GDC yesterday titled "Sex in Video Games." It wasn't about "boobies and penises," as Gaider jokingly put it, but about how sex and gender are portrayed in games, and why the industry should take responsibility for the messages it sends. His conclusion is that the industry, at the very least, needs to stop actively repelling women and minorities, and is responsible for setting a tone which condones sexism.

Gaider began by criticizing some of the early decisions he made while working on romance options—he started with Baldur's Gate II, so he's had a lot of experience. "We censored ourselves," said Gaider, chastising the studio for initial trepidation over the idea of including same-sex relationships. Since then, he says BioWare has learned how its choices impact players.

"The moment broached the subject of romance and sex, we were saying something about what was acceptable, and what was normal, and who we thought our audience was," said Gaider. "We said that whether we wanted to say anything or not. We said it by virtue of what we included, as well as what we didn't include. Those were statements."

Gaider went on to say that portraying sex in games is difficult because the public views gamers as "mostly children," while the industry views them as teenage boys who want sexualized female characters. He counters these perceptions with stats about BioWare's playerbase and the ESA's demographics survey, which indicate a large female audience.

"Are we still marketing our games primarily to that 18 to 25 demographic?" he asked. "Are we all fighting for the same piece of that same slice of that pie? As nice as it must be to be that demographic—when you've got everyone banging on your door, trying to court you, it must be very pleasant—what's it like for someone who isn't in that demographic? We know they play our games. We can see that they do. OK, there's support for that, but it's not because anyone invited them to play. In fact, in a lot of cases, it's clear they play despite it being made plainly obvious to them that they're not the intended audience."

The problem, says Gaider, comes from falsely held industry standards and the phenomenon of privilege. Regarding the former, Gaider made no concessions for "conventional industry wisdom." It's "bull****," he said, after ridiculing the idea that games with female protagonists aren't marketable.

"Are we supposed to accept the opposite, that a game which has a male protagonist and sells well, sells well because it has a male protagonist?" asked Gaider. "What about the ones with male protagonists that don't sell well? Are those for other reasons? What would be the bar at which the industry would change its mind about female protagonists? Would we need a title to sell 10 million copies? Is that the bar?"

On privilege, Gaider recognized that it's a sensitive claim, but explained that's it's not about being sexist or racist—it's intrinsic ignorance.

"Privilege is when you think that something's not a problem because it's not a problem for you personally," he said. "If you're part of a group that's being catered to, you believe that's the way it should be. 'It's always been that way, why would that be a problem for anyone?'

"I want you to indulge me for a moment, imagine that since video games were first made, all major characters are black. Every hero. Everyone who does something virtuous, they're all black. Good white characters? Few and far between. Mostly minor—the white guy on the team. White female characters? Unheard of...If your response to that is, 'Actually I wouldn't mind,' I'm pretty sure if you talked to somebody who is in that position, they could tell you that you would. You don't have the context to understand what someone's going to...you have to recognize that, because that's privilege. Because you have the privilege to not have to understand."

Quotes from a forum poster upset that he is no longer the "sole proprietor" of gaming help Gaider make his point.

So, what should the industry do? Gaider doesn't think all games should have female protagonists, or be made to appeal to everyone. That's reductio absurdum, he says—pushing the issue to an illogical absurd where Call of Duty is a hippie commune. Being inclusive isn't about creating "a carefully constructed pastiche of genders, ethnicities, and sexualities," he said.

"I'm not talking about needing to go out and say, 'Oh, how do we attract women?' How about we just decide how not to repel women? I think that's all they're asking for, really! That's how you invite them, because we see they're already interested in playing, so welcome them to the table.

"And remember, even if you say, 'We're not interested, we're happy having this audience that we currently have. We sell a bajillion copies, we don't need—obviously our products do pretty well.' Consider that we influence the way our audience thinks. Even if you're not engaging in the discussion with that other audience you think you don't need, you are talking to the audience you currently have, you are influencing their attitudes. And those attitudes affect others."

Throughout his talk, Gaider fairly acknowledged BioWare's role in the issue, and criticized the industry's passive acceptance of sexist behavior. He also acknowledged that he has "plenty of privilege," and suggested everyone pay attention to others talking about the issue.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Face Off: Do romance options hurt storytelling?">romance_facaeoff

Player-directed love stories are typically accomplished with "romance options." The options are characters, and in the mechanic's simplest form, if you do and say the right things to an eligible character, he, she, or Asari will fall in love, bed, or both. But can love—and more importantly, good storytelling—blossom from dialog options and cutscene trysts?

In this week's Face Off debate, Tyler says love is a bad game, arguing that writer-driven affection is preferable to mechanizing intimacy. Across the debate hall, T.J. cherishes the player-driven relationships that motivated him to save universes. Read more opinions on the next page, and argue your side in the comments. It's what the internet is for!

Tyler: "Alright team, we designed an interesting, complex character, but something’s missing. What’s that you say, every libidinous teenager? Wouldn't it be neat if players could manipulate the character's variables with the goal of fulfilling their carnal fantasies? Yes! Instead of a character, we’ll make a doll that comes to bed and says 'I love you' when you squeeze it."

T.J: OK, I’m going to refrain from derailing this whole thing with an anti-neo-Victorian rant on how our society is irrationally afraid of sex, and make my case this way: relationships are a core part of being human, and just about any story about humans. Adding player romance to a game makes it feel more real and complete as an experience. Thinking about it from a gamist “manipulating variables” perspective is missing the point. And it’s kinda gross.

Tyler: What’s gross is connecting with Liara in Mass Effect, and then getting her in bed by skipping down an obvious, color-coded path. I’m not against portrayals of sex and relationships, especially not with blue monogender aliens, but achieving intimacy shouldn't be about choosing the right dialog options.

I liked bonding with Liara, but when we reached that inevitable moment of passion, our interaction went from engaging character development to an erotic fanfic on Tumblr.

T.J: And you would know what erotic Tumblr fanfic sounds like.

Tyler: I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Fanfics on Angelfire pairing off Mulder and Evangelion. I watched scenes of glitter and Spock near—alright, I'll go ahead and lose this reference like tears in rain.

T.J: Please do.

Tyler: I'm an explorer, what can I say? Anyway, what I was saying is that alluding to romance would have been more effective than making it a binary goal, a hedonistic achievement. The latter cheapens the character and ultimately lets us down.

T.J: Well-done romance in games goes far beyond simple hedonism. To use another example from the same franchise: romancing Tali created one of the most emotionally striking moments in Mass Effect 3, and it had nothing to do with sex. I wanted to help her rebuild her home. I wanted to settle down there with her, and give her the life her people had dreamed of for so long.

Would I have wanted that even if she hadn’t been my character’s romantic partner? Maybe. But the impact would have been far, far less... impactful.

Tyler: I can’t believe you brought that up, you insensitive boor! Don’t you know what happened to me and her? It didn’t have to be like that, Tali...

T.J: I don’t care how things went in the Tyler is Shepard timeline, which is clearly the darkest timeline. And I think you just proved my point.

Tyler: Jerk. Well, you’re right that giving players more motivation than “save the universe because, like, you’re on the front of the box and stuff” is part of what makes Mass Effect great, and building a romantic relationship is an effective way to design that motivation. But is presenting a stable of romantic candidates the best way to go about that? I don’t think so. It makes my “relationship” the result of deliberate calculation, which ruins it for me.

In Half-Life 2, however, I don’t even talk, but the subtle tenderness between Gordon and Alyx is a one way ticket to motivation city.

Gordon doesn't have words, never mind dialog options.

T.J: You have a point with Alyx, but I think in a game like Mass Effect, where so much about the protagonist, as a person, is determined by the player, you should be able to choose who they are romantically interested in. And you need a few, varied options to make that a possibility. There is a place for doing it the Half-Life way, but I feel more personal attachment in games that do it the BioWare way.

Tyler: I’ll respond to that, but first we have to stop dancing around the real problem and just say it: I don't want to reinforce negative gamer stereotypes, but trying to ignore every opportunity to make an immature joke about “reaching the story’s climax” or “doing it BioWare style” is just killing me.

T.J: Based on Dragon Age, I don’t know that I ever want to “do it BioWare style.” But that just further illustrates my point that the sex scene is not the reward.

Tyler: Anything raunchy, salacious, or simply involving the letter “x” will motivate some, but I’ll give you that developers aren’t required to justify their intentions or gauge player maturity.

My real problem is that interactive storytelling is still clumsy. It’s getting better, and some decisions work, like whether or not to do space violence here, or save a space colony there, but building a relationship with tacky dialog wheel winks and nudges feels crude. I’d rather romantic intentions stay ambiguous or writer-dictated until there’s a game sophisticated enough to make it feel natural. Right now they just feel like dating sims.

T.J: It’s all a matter of perspective. Sure, the tech isn't there yet to simulate the depth and nuance of a real-life romance in a player-directed system, but you could say that about a lot of things: the way the space rifles work, the way the space villagers react to your presence. Games inherently require abstraction. And personally, I’m willing to deal with the level of abstraction we see in game romances right now for what it adds to my personalized narrative. Which, at times, is quite a lot.

Tyler: Nuh uh, games should be just like real life ...would be a terribly dumb rebuttal. Alright, so your point about abstraction is a good one, but I still think author-driven romance is superior. Put one of those little black boxes in front of your TV and play Ico. That was an expression of affection, if not quite the same kind as we've been talking about.

The point is, wooing characters who are programmed to be wooed just makes me feel weird. Unless, of course, I’m using “wooing” to mean "shooting up a floor full of suit-wearing dudes like that scene from 1992 John Woo film Hard Boiled". I’m totally cool with that kind of Wooing.

T.J: The only thing that could make that better is getting the girl at the end.

Follow Tyler and T.J. on Twitter to see day-to-day debates as they happen, and jump to the next page for opinions from the community...

@pcgamer They can hinder when it's forced or poorly written, but the best relationships can really enhance the experience.

— Eric Watson (@RogueWatson) February 13, 2013

@pcgamer They can be too heavy handed, clumsy and unnatural. Though romance is often just that, stories about it shouldn't be.

— Modred189 V (@Modred189) February 12, 2013

@pcgamer They feel forced and are ultimately unnecessary. I'd much prefer a well scripted single romance path that I could chose to follow.

— Garviel Loken (@SeventyTwo_) February 12, 2013

@pcgamer Mass Effect romance is no better or worse than what it wants to be: Captain Kirk and a Green Alien Chick/Ensign going at it.

— Jacob Dieffenbach (@dieffenbachj) February 12, 2013

@pcgamer if done right, they add a nice nuance.ME did it decently, but can be expanded upon without hindering the main story.

— Chris K. (@ChuckLezPC) February 12, 2013

@pcgamer If it feels like part of the story then fine. If it's an afterthought for content/controversy/publicity then it feels gimmicky

— Roman (@romanwlltt) February 12, 2013

@pcgamer brilliant. They make me care for characters. I like Garrus' bromance too

— Alex Filipowski (@AlexFiliUK) February 12, 2013

@pcgamer yes definitely. That's part of the reason why I love the Dragon Age series so much. Romance with certain char. Really brings you in

— Nick Ellsworth (@NE4Guinness) February 12, 2013

@pcgamer If I wanted to play a Japanese dating simulation... well, I don't, so there you go.

— HerpsMcDerps (@LoneCommandline) February 12, 2013

@pcgamer It forces emotional character interaction as you will invariably show favouritism. More emotion = more immersion

— AEON|Dante (@nzaeon) February 12, 2013

@pcgamer Three ME games (well, still a bit left of the third), and I have yet to even find any of the romance options. Art imitating life.

— Frode Hauge (@frodehauge) February 12, 2013

@pcgamer Depends on whether its tactfully done. A Nick Spark's story would murder an otherwise immersive game like ME.

— Andrew (@Drewoid13) February 12, 2013

@pcgamer They can allow for greater immersion and more dynamic stories.They shouldn't be the main focus but they should be in RPG's for sure

— Denholm (@DenholmFraser) February 12, 2013

@pcgamer The problem is that the romance is essentially between two puppets. I'm not sure you can replicate proper romance in games.

— Michael (@AchillesSC2) February 12, 2013

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