Don’t make a game with an engine you don’t know! The Making of Dragon Age: Inquisition (Blood, Sweat, and Pixels – Part 7)

The Consumerist website conducts an annual "America's Worst Company" poll and polls the audience in a March Madness-style playoff series in the American Basketball League. He asked them to choose the most hated company in America. In 2008, the American economy collapsed, and insurance salespeople at AIG achieved this great honor. In 2011, the title was awarded to BP, the company whose oil rigs leaked 210 million gallons of crude oil onto the US Gulf Coast. But in 2012 and 2013, a different company took that honor, one that beat out the likes of Comcast and Bank of America, as 250,000 voters mobilized to declare the worst company in the United States actually video game publisher Electronic Arts. EA.

BingMag.com Don’t make a game with an engine you don’t know! The Making of Dragon Age: Inquisition (Blood, Sweat, and Pixels – Part 7)

The Consumerist website conducts an annual "America's Worst Company" poll and polls the audience in a March Madness-style playoff series in the American Basketball League. He asked them to choose the most hated company in America. In 2008, the American economy collapsed, and insurance salespeople at AIG achieved this great honor. In 2011, the title was awarded to BP, the company whose oil rigs leaked 210 million gallons of crude oil onto the US Gulf Coast. But in 2012 and 2013, a different company took that honor, one that beat out the likes of Comcast and Bank of America, as 250,000 voters mobilized to declare the worst company in the United States actually video game publisher Electronic Arts. EA.

There were many reasons for this ill-fated victory, such as: the emergence of in-app payments (Microtransactions) within EA games and the spectacular disaster of the online-only reboot of Sim City. came into being Perhaps the most influential factor, however, was the disaster that gamers believe EA brought on Bioware. are in-game items (such as weapons and clothing) that players can purchase with real money. Few things infuriate video game fans as much as in-app payments.)

(Footnote 2: Due to connectivity issues, SimCity has It was virtually unplayable the day after its release in March 2013. Even when the servers were stabilized and the game launched, players noticed glitches in the game's simulation: for example, cars always took the shortest route between their origin and destination, even though there was heavy traffic on that route. . Cops weren't crossing intersections. Traffic wasn't working properly. We at Kotaku had a special tag for the occasion: "SimCity Disaster Watch.")

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  • The troubles of making a single-player game; The story of the construction of Stardo Valley (blood, sweat and pixels - part 4)
  • Salvation of a failed project; The story of making Diablo 3 (Blood, sweat and pixels - Part 5)
  • Destruction of a successful studio because of political games; The story of the creation of Halo Wars (Blood, Sweat and Pixels - Part 6)

Bioware was a company that was founded in 1995. It was founded by three doctors who thought it would be cool to make a game. The company rose to fame with the release of Baldur's Gate, a role-playing game based on black holes and dragons, in 1998 (so influential that it plays a central role in the development of two of the games in this book: Pillars of Eternity Eternity) and The Witcher 3 (The Witcher 3). Over the next few years, BioWare became famous for creating a series of high-profile role-playing games: Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and the space opera Mass Effect. Besides those who liked to shoot aliens, it also appealed to those who liked to kiss aliens.

BingMag.com Don’t make a game with an engine you don’t know! The Making of Dragon Age: Inquisition (Blood, Sweat, and Pixels – Part 7)

In 2007, Electronic Arts bought Bioware, and in recent years, the studio had entered a period of stagnation in the eyes of fans. BioWare's two notable new series, Jeremy's and Dragon Age, Tolkien's fantasy role-playing, were both popular, but far from their prime. Released in 2011, Dragon Age 2 was criticized for being incomplete. Jeremy 3, which was released in 2012 and was the last work of the Jeremy trilogy, provoked the anger of die-hard fans of the series, because it had a controversial ending that was apparently not influenced by the player's choices.

BingMag.com Don’t make a game with an engine you don’t know! The Making of Dragon Age: Inquisition (Blood, Sweat, and Pixels – Part 7)

Fans thought these mistakes were EA's fault. Anyway, all the problems started when EA bought the studio, didn't they? Just look at the long list of popular studios that EA bought and then shut down. In this list, there are names such as Bullfrog, the maker of Dungeon Keeper, Westwood, the maker of Command & Conquer, and Origin, the maker of Ultima. Fans feared that BioWare would be next on the list. Fans took to The Consumerist website to send a message, even if they had to declare that a video game publisher is worse than a corrupt mortgage company. , was grappling with an even more urgent challenge: Dragon Age Inquistion, the third title in the Dragon Age fantasy series. The title - which we'll call Inquisition for convenience - was supposed to be the most ambitious game BioWare had ever made. This game had a lot to prove. This game was supposed to prove that Bioware is back on form, it was supposed to prove that EA didn't cripple the studio, it was supposed to prove that Bioware can make a world-playing role-playing game where the player can roam freely in vast environments. But as Flynn knew, the Inquisition was behind schedule because of the new and unfamiliar technology. Frostbite, their new game engine, required more work than everyone in the studio expected.

BingMag.com Don’t make a game with an engine you don’t know! The Making of Dragon Age: Inquisition (Blood, Sweat, and Pixels – Part 7)

<"Exploring all that's possible with a new engine is both exciting and humbling," Flynn wrote on BioWare's blog in September 2012, shortly after Inquisition Watch was announced. If they'd already had a few glasses of vodka or if they weren't worried about the possible reaction from EA's advertising department Flynn might have added to the blog post the sentence that was on everyone's heart at Bioware: Our humble reason is that this new engine is a disaster. It's technical.

***

Bioware's headquarters are located in a small office complex near downtown Edmonton. The city is known for its grand arcades and its sometimes insultingly cold weather. It is not surprising that the idea of making Dragon Age came to this studio. If you want to fantasize about a fantasy world inhabited by legendary fire-breathing creatures, there's no better place to dream than Edmonton. It was first produced in 2002. After seven years, BioWare released the first game in the series, Dragon Age: Origins, in November 2009. This game was attractive for all tastes. Die-hard fans of role-playing games will appreciate the game's strategic combat and impactful choices. Romantics thrived on being able to charm their charming cohortslike Alistair, the sarcastic knight, and Morrigan, the seductive sorceress. Dragon Age became a huge success, selling millions of copies and most importantly, inspiring hundreds of thousands of lines of fanfiction.

BingMag.com Don’t make a game with an engine you don’t know! The Making of Dragon Age: Inquisition (Blood, Sweat, and Pixels – Part 7)

Dragon Age's development team was led by Mark Darrah, one of BioWare's popular veterans who had been with the company since the late 90s. Dara had a dry sense of humor and a bushy beard that was fawn-colored in 2013, when I met him for the first time, but 3 years later, it had turned into a chestnut color. Cameron Lee, one of Biowire's producers, said: "Mark is very talented in the field of game development. At the studio, we call Dragon Age a "pirate ship" because it goes where ever it needs to go, but it passes everywhere along the way. Like a pirate ship, sometimes we sail to such and such a place. Sometimes we drink beer in some hangout. Sometimes we go somewhere else and do something else. This is Mark's favorite management style." (As described by another who worked on the game: "The reason Dragon Age was called Pirate Ship was because the development process was so chaotic, and usually the loudest person decided what was next." I think they cleverly appropriated the nickname and extracted a better meaning from it.)

BingMag.com Don’t make a game with an engine you don’t know! The Making of Dragon Age: Inquisition (Blood, Sweat, and Pixels – Part 7)

So Since the release of Dragon Age: Origins in 2009, Dara and his team of pirates have had ideas for their next big game. In Origins you played a fanatical Gray Warden who dedicated his life to fighting demons, but the next Dragon Age was supposed to be about political conflict on a larger scale. Dara wanted to make a game about the Inquisition; According to the Dragon Age universe, the Inquisition was an independent organization that resolved conflicts around the world. player He was supposed to play the role of the leader of this organization.

But the plan changed. The development process for another Bioware game - the massive online role-playing game called Star Wars: The Old Republic - was disrupted. The Old Republic, which was being developed at BioWare's studio in Austin, Texas, was constantly delayed and its release date was moved from 2009 to 2010 and 2011. Frustrated with this, EA executives wanted a new product from BioWare to meet their seasonal sales targets, and decided that it was the work of the Dragon Age development team. After lengthy discussions, Mark Dara and Erin Flynn agreed to deliver Dragon Age 2 in March 2011, sixteen months after the release of Dragon Age: Origins. and left a gap behind him. Basically, Dragon Age 2 was meant to fill this gap. "The goal was always for Dragon Age 2 to fill that void." Dara wanted to call it Dragon Age: Exodus (a title he says he "wished we'd kept"), but EA executive producers insisted that the game be called Dragon Age 2 and didn't care about the meaning behind the name. What is it?

BingMag.com Don’t make a game with an engine you don’t know! The Making of Dragon Age: Inquisition (Blood, Sweat, and Pixels – Part 7)

Dragon Age 1 took seven years to make. Now Bioware had a year and a half to make a sequel for it. For any big game, it would have been difficult to make a game in this time frame, and for role-playing games, it would have been practically impossible. There were too many variables. Dragon Age: Origins consisted of four large areas, each with its own factions, monsters, and quests. The decisions the player made at the beginning of Origins like how each character's "origin" story would follow had a significant impact on the rest of the game, meaning BioWare's writers and designers had to design different scenarios to accommodate all the possibilities. If you were playing as a dwarven noble who had just been exiled from the labyrinthine city of Orzammar, the rest of the dwarves had to react accordingly to your return. If you were human, they wouldn't particularly care about your return.

It was impossible to achieve any of these achievements in one year. Even if BioWare had everyone working non-stop and overtime on Dragon Age 2, they still couldn't make a sequel as ambitious as fans' expectations. To solve this problem, Mark Dara and his team members abandoned the old idea of the Inquisition and made a risky choice. Instead of Dragon Age 2 having several different parts of the Dragon Age fantasy world to explore, the game takes place entirely within one city - Kirkwall - and over the course of ten years. In this way, the production team could use the same areas for many parts of the game, reducing the production time of the game by several months. They also removed a number of features that were present in Dragon Age: Roots, such as the ability to customize party members' items. Mike Laidlaw, creative director of Dragon Age, said: "This decision did not leave a great result, but if we had not made such a decision, the process of making the game would have been much more difficult. That's why we made the best decisions we could in a short period of time."

BingMag.com Don’t make a game with an engine you don’t know! The Making of Dragon Age: Inquisition (Blood, Sweat, and Pixels – Part 7) In gaming, the term "Creative Director" refers to the manager of a project, but EA used different terminology.)

When Dragon Age 2 was released in March 2011, it did not receive a good response from players. . They voiced their anger, slamming the game for its boring side-quests and recycled environments.

(Footnote: Over time, some fans started to feel better about Dragon Age 2, and many of the staff BioWare says they're proud of the game. Cutscene designer John Epler said, "Dragon Age 2 is a project where I think everyone who worked on it really came together and became closer.")

One blogger wrote: "The drop in quality compared to the previous title is staggering and I would not recommend anyone to buy this game under any circumstances." "A game like Dragon Age: Roots didn't sell, even though it was considered a success in some dark corners of EA's accounting department," Dara said. In the summer of 2011, BioWare decided to cancel the Dragon Age 2 expansion pack Exalted March in order to make a new game. They wanted to move away from the disgrace that Dragon Age 2 brought them.

They needed to reboot the series. Dara said, I think the Dragon Age team was expected to make a AAA quality game. There were whispersnot within the studio, but in the gaming industry as a wholethat BioWare was effectively two factions: Jeremy's team, and the rest of the team. I think there was a lot of motivation to fight this assumption. The production team Dragon Age was very determined."

***

There are some elements of role-playing games that seem obvious to us. It's not often that a player buys the latest title in the Final Fantasy series, pops the disc into their PlayStation, and raves about the game's beautiful save system on Facebook. You won't find many reviews praising Fallout's new ability to switch between combat and non-combat gameplay. The reason why Skyrim sold millions of copies was not because its creators knew how to manage the player's backpack in the best way. All of these systems and features are necessary, but not particularly glamorous and certainly not fun to build, which is why most video games use engines. The engine is more like a car factory. Every time you build a new car, you need a lot of the same equipment: tires, gears, leather seats, etc. Almost all video games also need the same basic features: physics system, graphics renderer, main menu. Coding each of these parts for each game is like if you want to build a new sedan, you have to design new wheels for it. Engines, like factories, allow their users to recycle certain things so that they don't have to do extra work.

Even before finishing Dragon Age 2, Arin Flynn and Mark Dara were looking for their fantasy collection. They were looking for a new engine. Eclipse, the studio's in-house game engine, seemed too old and outdated for the eye-catching, high-end games they hoped to make. Implementing simple cinematic effects, such as lens flare, was impossible for Eclipse. Dara said: "Graphically, Eclipse wasn't a strong engine and it didn't have many features."

Most importantly, Jeremy's series used the Unreal engine, which belonged to Epic Games. This made the cooperation between the two teams more difficult. Even simple tasks like rendering a 3D model in Eclipse required a completely different process compared to Unreal. "Our technology strategy was very sloppy," Flynn said. Every time we started making a new game, people said: Well, try a new engine...

BingMag.com Don’t make a game with an engine you don’t know! The Making of Dragon Age: Inquisition (Blood, Sweat, and Pixels – Part 7)

The second bonus for Frostbite was that EA owned it. If Bioware built all its games on Frostbite, it could share technology with its sister studios and other EA-owned studios like Visceral, the maker of Dead Space, and Criterion, the maker of Need for Speed. ) to borrow game tools. In other words, whenever these studios learned cool new tricks to improve facial motion capture or make explosions more eye-catching, BioWare could use their knowledge. There was Dragon 2, but in the meantime, Mark Dara gathered a small group to work on an initial project called Blackfoot. This initial plan had two main goals: to introduce the Frostbite engine and to create a free-to-play multiplayer game set in the Dragon Age universe. The second idea never came to fruition and after a few months Blackfoot was forgotten. This was a sign of greater challenges ahead. "We didn't make the desired progress because our team was too small," Dara said. If you have a small team, it's hard to get ahead with Frostbait. It just takes a few people to keep Frostbite running.

By late 2011, with the cancellation of Blackfoot and the Dragon Age 2 expansion pack, Dara had access to a sizeable team to work on BioWare's next big game. to start They brought up the idea of the Inquisition again and talked about what Dragon Age 3 would look like on Frostbite. By 2012, they had a plan in mind. Dragon Age 3: The Inquisition (which later dropped the "3" from its title) was supposed to be an open-world role-playing game that was one of the inspirations. The big one was Bethesda's best-selling game Skyrim. The game was supposed to be located in new areas of the Dragon Age universe and leave an impression on the audience that Dragon Age 2 lacked. "My secret mission was to shock and surprise players with a lot of content," said art director Matt Goldman. One of the people's criticisms was that Dragon Age 2 did not have enough content. Our goal was that no one would say such things about the Inquisition. In fact, I personally want people at the end of the game to say: Oh, no. One more step."

BingMag.com Don’t make a game with an engine you don’t know! The Making of Dragon Age: Inquisition (Blood, Sweat, and Pixels – Part 7)

Bioware wanted Inquisition to be one of the launch titles of the next generation of consoles - PlayStation 4. and Xbox One. But those at EA whose job was to predict profitable decisions were heavily influenced by the market for iPad and iPhone games and were afraid that PlayStation 4 and Xbox One would not sell well. Sure enough, the publisher insisted that the game be released for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, two consoles that were in tens of millions of homes. (Most of the early games released for PlayStation 4/Xbox One followed this strategy, with the exception of a Polish RPG that we'll cover in Chapter 9.) With PC in mind, BioWare should make Inquisition a one-stop-shop for five. It builds a platform. This was Bioware's first experience in this field.

The fire of ambition was being ignited. It was Bioware's first open-world 3D game and their first game with the Frostbite engine, an engine that had never been used for RPGs before. The game had to be made in two years, released on five platforms, and most importantly, it had to restore the credibility of the studio, which had already been tarnished. Matt Goldman said: "Essentially, our job was new consoles, a new engine, a new gameplay style, we had to make the biggest game we've ever worked on, at the highest level of the company's standard, and we were doing all this with tools that didn't exist."

***

If we liken the game engine to a car factory, in 2012, when Inquisition entered the production phase, the Frostbite engine It was like a car factory that did not have a proper production line. Prior to Inquisition, EA-controlled game developers used the Frostbite engine primarily to create first-person action games such as Battlefield and Medal of Honor. Frostbite's engineers had never made a tool to make the main character visible to the player. What did they need to do? In first-person action games, the camera is behind the main character's eyes. Your body consists of disembodied arms, a weapon and if you're very lucky a pair of passes. Battlefield didn't need role-playing elements, magic spells, or even a save system. The game campaign saved your progress thanks to its automatic checkpoints. Therefore, Frostbite creators did not need to incorporate any of these features into this engine.

BingMag.com Don’t make a game with an engine you don’t know! The Making of Dragon Age: Inquisition (Blood, Sweat, and Pixels – Part 7)

Dara said "It was an engine that was built to make shooter games. We have to put everything we need on it ourselves." At the beginning of the work, the members of the Dragon Age team underestimated the amount of work that needed to be done in this direction. "Characters need to move and walk and talk and draw swords," said Mike Laidla. When you swing this sword, it should deal damage. "You have to press a button to shake it." Frostbite could do some of these things, Laidla added, but not all of them.

Dara and his team knew they were the lab rats for Frostbite's enginethey were trading short-term hassle for long-term benefits. - But during the early stages of building Inquisition, doing even the simplest tasks was a pain. Frostbite didn't yet have the tools they needed to build a role-playing game. Without this tool, the game designer would have no idea how long it would take to create such a critical element as the in-game environment. Inquisition was supposed to allow the player to control a group of 4 members, but this system was not yet in-game. How could a stage designer figure out how to place obstacles on a map when he couldn't test the map with a full group of characters?

Even when Frostbite's tools were responsive, they were unreliable and difficult to use. . John Eppler, the designer of cinematic cutscenes, referring to one of the internal demos, said that it took a lot of effort to make one of the cutscenes. "I had to go into the in-game dialogue, open the toolbox at the same time, and then hit the pause button very, very quickly when I got to the desired line of dialogue," Eppler said. Because otherwise the game would play the next line of dialogue. Then I had to add animation, then I could review it two or three times, but then the program would crash and I would have to start the process all over again. This is by a long way It was the worst experience I've ever had with a game development tool."

BingMag.com Don’t make a game with an engine you don’t know! The Making of Dragon Age: Inquisition (Blood, Sweat, and Pixels – Part 7)

The Frostbite team at DICE in support of Eppler and the rest of the designers spent time answering their questions and fixing bugs, but their resources were limited. To make matters worse, Sweden was eight hours away from Edmonton. If one of Bioware's designers had asked Dice a question in the afternoon, it might have taken an entire day to hear back.

Since it was so hard to create new content in Frostbite, trying to assess its quality became impossible. . After some time, Patrick Weekes, one of the writers, finished a scene between several characters and put it into the game. He then took it to some of the Bioware bosses to run one of their standard quality checks on it. When they launched the game, they saw that only the main character could talk. "Frostbite didn't do lines of dialogue spoken by characters other than the main character," Weeks said. For example, your character would say something and then a "bleep blip blip" sound would be heard, and then your character would say something again. You were saying to yourself: I can't judge the quality level of the scene with this situation.

Updates to the game engine made this process more challenging. Every time the Frostbite team updated the engine with new patches and features, BioWare's programmers had to integrate it with the changes they made in the previous version. They had to go through the new code from scratch and copy and paste all the previous content they had made - backpacks, save files, characters - and then test it all to make sure none of it was broken. They couldn't find a way to automate the process, so they had to do it manually. "It took a lot of energy," said Cameron Lee. There were times when a game build wouldn't work for a month or was completely unusable. When a new version of the game engine was released, the tools team would start working on the integration. During all this time, the game team was working and progressing, so the situation just got worse and worse and worse."

BingMag.com Don’t make a game with an engine you don’t know! The Making of Dragon Age: Inquisition (Blood, Sweat, and Pixels – Part 7)

Meanwhile, the art department was loving the world. For all its weaknesses as an RPG engine, Frostbite was a perfect tool for creating large, eye-popping environments, and the studio's artists took the opportunity to create the dense forests and muddy swamps that would abound in Inquisition. In keeping with Matt Goldman's request to "shock and awe" the audience, BioWare's environment artists spent several months making as much content as possible, making educated guesses whenever they didn't know what the designers needed. Ben McGrath, lead environment designer, said: "The artwork for the environments was prepared earlier than the rest of the game. For a while, guys joked that we were going to make a great screenshot maker, because you could walk through the steps, but you couldn't do anything inside them. You could just take great photos.

But great photos don't lead to video games. Mike Laidla, who led the story and gameplay team, was working with the writers and designers to determine the milestones of Inquisition's story. Determining the outline of the story was not difficult. They knew that the player was supposed to be the leader of the Inquisition and his like-minded soldiers; They knew that the main villain of the game was supposed to be an evil wizard named Corypheus; They knew that, as always, there were going to be characters that would accompany the player as companions, and that you could recruit them or develop a romantic relationship with them. But the idea of Inquisition as an "open world" game had become a challenge for Laidla and his team. The artistic team of the game had designed large and eye-catching environments for the game, but what were the players supposed to do there? How could BioWare make sure that exploring the vast world of Inquisition would still be fun after dozens of hours?

(Footnote: One of the game ideas that BioWare never took seriously was drivable dragons. Mark Dara said: John Ricciottiello (John Riccitiello, the CEO of EA, told us that we should include dragon riding in the game. It would sell ten million copies." (Dragons were not included in the final version of Inquisition.)

BingMag.com Don’t make a game with an engine you don’t know! The Making of Dragon Age: Inquisition (Blood, Sweat, and Pixels – Part 7)

In an ideal world, a major project like Inquisition would have a dedicated team of system designers whose job it was to solve such problems. Their job was to design the quests, activities, and other activities that would keep the player entertained while exploring Inquisition's vast world.They tried to design what the designers call the "Core Gameplay Loop"eg To play the game for thirty minutes How should it look? - And finally based on these things, they did enough trial and error to make the gameplay feel good.

In the real world, Laidla and his team didn't have time for such work. Frostbite wouldn't let them do that. As they tinkered with the game, the game designers realized they couldn't try new ideas because many of the game's core features were missing. Was there enough content to do in each area of the game? The game camera was not working, so they did not have an answer to this question. Were the quests interesting enough? They couldn't answer this question yet, because there was no combat system yet.

Lidella and his team came up with an abstract idea: that the player, in the role of an inspector, roams around the game world, solving people's problems and increase its influence and power so that it can influence events on a global scale. However, it was not known for a long time what this idea would look like in-game. The game development team wanted "influence" to have a function similar to a financial currency like gold, but this system did not work. "This system needed more refinement and testing on a smaller scale, we had to try it in different ways," Laidla said. But instead we said: Let's build a series of stages and hope that we will figure out what we need to do along with the progress. Inquisition invited Mark Dara Mike Laidla to lunch. "We were walking to his car and it occurred to me that maybe he had part of the script in mind," Laidla said. Dara told me: "Okay, I don't know how to deal with this issue, so I'll put it bluntly." From one to infinity... how upset would you be if I said it would be better if the player could be - I don't know - a Qunari Inquisitor?"

BingMag.com Don’t make a game with an engine you don’t know! The Making of Dragon Age: Inquisition (Blood, Sweat, and Pixels – Part 7)

Lidella was confused. They had concluded that the player could only be human. Adding other playable races like the horned Qunari that Dara requested meant one thing, and that was that they had to quadruple their budget for animation, voice acting, and scripting.

Lidella said: "The thought I hope we can implement this idea." He asked Dara if they could request more funding for the dialogue department.

Dara said that if Laidla could make the idea of playable races work, not only could she have more dialogue, but she could spend another year on Make the game work.

Lidella was excited. Evil, he remembered saying. OK.

It was later revealed that Mark Darr had himself decided that it was impossible to finish making Inquisition in 2013. The game was too big and they had underestimated the time needed to complete many of the necessary tasks due to frostbite problems. In order for Inquisition to become the role-playing world that Dara and his team members had in mind, they should have delayed its release by at least a year. Dara was preparing a proposal he was going to make to EA: let Biowire push back the game, and in return the final game would be bigger and better than even EA had envisioned.

One day in March 2013, Mark Dara and Erin Flynn, head of BioWare Studios. , boarded an early flight to EA's offices in Redwood Beach, California. They were sure that EA would take it easy on them, but the meeting was still nerve wracking, especially because of the recent tensions that EA had been experiencing. The publisher had just parted ways with its former CEO, John Riccittiello, and replaced him with board member Larry Probst on an interim basis to keep his seat warm until a new CEO was found. It was impossible to predict how Probst would react to Biovir's request. Delaying Inquisition would have affected EA's financial forecasts for that fiscal year, which was not good news at all.

(Footnote: Ever wondered why so many big games are released in March every year? For this The question has a simple answer: a concept called the Fiscal Year from which to report performance Economics is applied to shareholders and has the greatest influence on the decisions of any publicly traded company. Most game publishers close their fiscal year on March 31st, so if they want to delay the release of a game but still fit it into the current fiscal year, March is the best time frame possible.)

Dara And Flynn first showed up at the EA headquarters. As they were walking, the first person they saw was their new boss, Larry Probst. "We entered the office with Larry and left the office with him at the end of the day," said Dara. I think we attracted his attention in this way." This meeting lasted about 2 hours. Dara said: "The topic of discussion was possible scenarios and the effect of decisions on economic issues. That's why a little fuss was inevitable."

Perhaps their request was persuasive. Perhaps the tensions of the executive department of the company were too heavy. Perhaps the shadow of Dragon Age 2 was weighing heavily on Probst and his colleagues. Maybe EA didn't like being called "the worst company in America". An internet poll certainly wasn't the reason EA's stock fell, but winning "Worst Company of the Year" 2 years in a row had a significant impact on the publisher's executives, prompting a series of tense internal meetings about how EA could restore its lost reputation. slow, led Whatever the reason, EA agreed to the delay request. Delaying Inquisition for a year may reduce the publisher's revenue in the third quarter of the fiscal year, but if the delay leads to a better game, it would be good for everyone.

***

I saw Inquisition for the first time in a luxurious room at the Grand Hyatt in downtown Seattle. The date was August 2013, and the next day BioWare was planning to show the game to fans at the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) - which was held nearby - so the studio had invited journalists to preview the game. show them Sipping from a complimentary bottle of water, I watched Mark Darrah and Mike Laidla play a thirty-minute demo set in two war-torn areas: Crestwood and Western Approach. In the demo, the player-controlled inspector was tasked with protecting a castle from invading forces, burning boats to stop soldiers from escaping, and capturing a castle for the benefit of the guild.

All these scenes are great to watch. There were ideas, but none of them made it into the final version of Inquisition.

BingMag.com Don’t make a game with an engine you don’t know! The Making of Dragon Age: Inquisition (Blood, Sweat, and Pixels – Part 7)

That demo, like many trailers The hype we see at shows like E3 was almost entirely artificial. By the fall of 2013, the Dragon Age team had put many of the components of Frostbite's engine into placesuch as tires, rods, and gearsbut they still didn't know what kind of car they were building. Laidla and his teammates had designed the demo shown at Penny Arcade by hand, and their source of inspiration was what they "thought" might make it into the final version. Most of the stages and artwork were realistic, but the gameplay was not. "We didn't have the privilege of super-cohesive early designs," Laidla said. One of the things we needed to do was to put on a show and be transparent so that people wouldn't think that Dragon Age 2 was going to happen again. Our goal was to say: Hey, look, the game is running, and it's in Penny Arcade. We wanted to show the fans that we care about them.

The shadow of Dragon Age 2 weighed heavily on the team members. Ledella and the rest of the team were trying to figure out which gameplay mechanics would work best for Inquisition. Even after their Penny Arcade show, they had trouble staying true to a vision. "We felt shaky, and I think it's inevitable to feel shaky after coming out of such an up-and-down period," Laidla said. It was a question for us, which of the criticisms of Dragon Age 2 was just a product of the times and which was a wrong decision? Which aspects of the game do we need to rebuild? Such questions create a lot of doubt." There has been a lot of debate over the game's combat system: for example, is it better to go back to the fast-paced gameplay of Dragon Age 2 or the tactical gameplay of Dragon Age: Origins? There were also discussions about how to add more detail to the forest areas.

Over the coming months after Penny Arcade 2013, the game's development team did more of what they had shown in the demo - like burning the boat and capturing the castle. deleted.

(Footnote: For years, game developers have struggled with the question: what content should be included in a video game demo? If a demo shown at E3 will ever make it into the final game Isn't that an example of lying to the fans? That's a very debatable issue. Mark Dara said: "When people get angry and say, 'You showed so-and-so, but the final game didn't look like that at all, that's our answer.' is what we thought it was supposed to be.")

BingMag.com Don’t make a game with an engine you don’t know! The Making of Dragon Age: Inquisition (Blood, Sweat, and Pixels – Part 7)

Even small features like the "search" tool are more They were reviewed ten times. Given that Inquisition didn't have a proper pre-production perioda period where designers could experiment with different prototypes and discard designs that didn't workLaidella felt a lot of pressure. He had to make spur-of-the-moment decisions. "I'm sure depending on which team member you ask, some of them will say, 'Wow, I think we did a great job despite the tough conditions,'" Laidla said. Others say: This Mike dude is a total bitch."

Bioware's previous games were also big, but none of them were as big as Inquisition. By the end of 2013, the game development team consisted of 200 people, and several dozen outsourced artists were also working in Russia and China. Each department had its head, but no one worked in a vacuum. If a writer wanted to write a scene about a battle between two dragons, they would have to take it to the design team for the initial layout, then to the art team for modeling, and to make sure all the cameras were pointed at the right spot. Leads to the cinematic team. They needed animation, otherwise the two dragons would just be standing in front of each other and looking at each other. After this discussion, sound, visual effects and quality control were mentioned. Putting it all together was a full-time job for several people. Shane Hawco, lead artist on character design, said: "It was very challenging to manage all the staff to work in the same direction." In such a scale, dependencies should be mentioned. In order for some factors to work and appear successful, some other factors must work and appear successful." The common term in the field of game development is "Blocking". Blocking happens when a game developer can't do his job because he's waiting for someone else to get him an important piece of art or programming code. "We could say to ourselves, 'Okay, I was supposed to do something today, but I can't because the system crashed, so I have to do that one thing,'" Flynn said. Skilled game developers are constantly switching between these tasks on a daily basis.

Blocking was always an issue, but as engineers both at BioWare and at Dice added more features to Frostbite, it became increasingly difficult. Reduced the tediousness of working on Inquisition. The tool gradually worked properly. The stages of the game took shape. Dragon Age team employees whose work had previously been hampered by the use of Frostbite - such as system designers - could finally implement and test their ideas in the open world of the game. However, they were running out of time and there was no way to delay the game any longer.

Every year, around Christmas, all Bioware teams would send their build of the game in progress to the entire studio to Play during the Christmas holidays. Any game that was close to release was prioritized, and for Christmas 2013 it was Inquisition. Dara and his teammates spent long hours in November and December preparing a playable version of Inquisition. This version didn't have to be perfect or polished (no one outside of EA was going to see it, anyway), but Dara saw an opportunity to go all out: that year's build was supposed to "have a playable narrative"; Others could play the entire story part, but many parts of the content of this part of the game were missing, and sometimes instead of a new quest, a large text was displayed inside the game that explained to you what was going to happen in that part. . When the rest of BioWare played the demo and gave feedback to the development team, Dara realized they were in trouble.

BingMag.com Don’t make a game with an engine you don’t know! The Making of Dragon Age: Inquisition (Blood, Sweat, and Pixels – Part 7)

There were big complaints about the story of the game. "According to some people's feedback, the game didn't make a lot of sense and the player's motivations didn't make much sense," said Cameron Lee. At the beginning of Inquisition, a large explosion causes a rift in The Veil, a magical boundary that separates the real world from the Fade's dream world. (According to Dragon Age world-building, this is a bad thing). In the original version of Inquisition's story, the prequel allowed the player to close this loophole and officially become an "inspector", which caused some confusion. "It didn't do a great service to the story," Lee said, "because you're basically closing the gap; What was the need to continue the story?"

The writers knew that everyone should work a few extra hours a day to solve this problem, but what other choice did they have? By starting a mission called "Operation Sledgehammer", they revisited the first chapter of Inquisition and changed some scenes. They added some scenes, so that in this first season, the player must ask for help from one of the warrior groups in the game before closing the gap and becoming an inspector; Or wizards or templars. "The hammer operation didn't destroy the whole story," Lee said. It just meant that he needed to break a few bones to correct the course of the story. This happens a lot in gaming.

Another criticism of the Christmas Holiday build was that the combat wasn't very fun. In January 2014, Daniel Kading, the game's lead conflict designer, started an experiment to solve this problem. Keeding recently joined the company after 12 years at Relic Studios. Relic Studios was a strategy game developer based in Vancouver, Canada, known for creating the Dawn of War series. He brought with him a powerful new method for testing combat in video games.

Keding made a proposal to BioWare's bosses. His proposal was to allow him to call the entire Inquisition team for four weeks in a row, for an hour each week, for necessary gaming sessions. The bosses gave him permission. So Keeding opened his own little lab and worked with the other designers to design a series of skirmishes for the rest of the team to test. Given that Dragon Age combat was made up of so many factorsplayer abilities, ability numbers, monster power, positioning, etc.Keding saw this experiment as an opportunity to pinpoint problems. After each session, testers had to fill out questionnaires about their experiences. Unlike the Christmas holiday build, which was extensive, this build was very focused. Kidding the results of the survey came in, the average score was an abysmal 1.2 (out of 10). Surprisingly, this figure was a relief for the gameplay team of Inquisition. "Everybody's spirits improved tremendously that week," Keeding said. The reason for this happiness was not that we had identified the problems; It was because we weren't shrugging them off anymore.

Over the next week, Kiding and his team tweaked the game's combat system, increased cooldowns, and based on feedback they received Changed the speed of the animations. "People gave us feedback from time to time," Keeding said. For example: Winter's Grasp has been improved, as it freezes the target for 4 seconds instead of 2 seconds. "This fight has become more cool, because now I can more reliably stop the monster's advance." Four weeks later, when the kidding test was finished, the average score was 8.8.

As 2014 continued, the Inquisition team made significant progress, though many hoped I wish they didn't release the game for old consoles. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were both significantly more powerful than their predecessors, especially when it came to RAM, the hardware that allows the game to store everything that's happening on stage in short-term memory. PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, whose technology belonged to 2004 and 2005, were not really suitable for gaming. (Footnote: This is confusing, but we also call the space inside the hard drive "memory" because computer geeks like to make things more confusing than necessary.)

A console's RAM is kind of like a bucket. performs Showing characters, objects, and scripts in the game is like adding different amounts of water to a bucket, and if the bucket overflows, the game will slow down to death or even crash. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One buckets were roughly 16 times larger than the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, but early in the development process, Dara and Laidla decided not to add features to the next-gen versions of the game that were impossible to implement on the previous-gen consoles. They didn't want people playing Inquisition on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 to feel like they were playing a different game. This limited the amount of water they could fit into their buckets, forcing the production team to come up with creative solutions.

BingMag.com Don’t make a game with an engine you don’t know! The Making of Dragon Age: Inquisition (Blood, Sweat, and Pixels – Part 7)

Patrick Weeks said, referring to one of the game's quests, "Here Lies the Abyss," "A lot of what we do is well-intentioned gimmicks. When you attack the fortress, a large cutscene will be shown with a large number of Clash of Clans soldiers and many gray guards on the walls. "Wow, I'm only fighting three or four people at a time, and I almost never have any Inquisitors with me," anyone paying attention will say to themselves when you're fighting in a fortress. The reason was that in order for this majority of the population to work on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, You couldn't have too many characters on the screen."

Arrin Flynn said: "I probably should have tried harder to cancel the game for previous generation consoles." Later it turned out that even releasing the game for previous generation consoles was not necessary as a safety valve for more sales. EA and the rest of the big publishers had grossly underestimated the success of the game on next-gen consoles. Both new consoles had phenomenal sales in 2013 and 2014, and according to Mark Dara, the sales of the game on the previous generation consoles were only 10% of the sales of the game. And while Frostbite was getting easier to work with, some parts of the game were significantly behind schedule. Due to the fact that the game creation tools had just started working in the 90th minute, and due to the fact that Inquisition was a large and complex game, the game development team did not manage to include a series of game features in it until the last minute. Patrick Weeks said: "It was only eight months before the game was released that we were able to include all the members of the band in the game." Vix tried to test the popular companion character Iron Bull, but found that there was no way to make him a member. "I said to myself: wait and see, we have to release the game in eight months and there is no one in the world who has finished the game with the presence of Iron Ball in their group? So I have no idea if any of his dialogues and quips make sense. The reason was not the laziness of a particular person. The reality was this: we were trying to build an engine from scratch. All the programmers and scriptwriters were building the game at that point in the world.

Given that everything was behind schedule, the game's development team was only able to identify a number of problems with Inquisition in the last few months of the game's development process. give Trying to determine the rhythm and flow of the game before this period was like test driving a tricycle. "You write the story and you revise it and you say to yourself, 'Okay, I'm going to change some things,'" said Mark Dara. Then you put your mental processes into the game and design a white box (see footnote). You're cruising along and everything seems fine. But suddenly there's a voice in your head that says, Actually, this step doesn't work at all. "Everything is awful." Time was running out and BioWare couldn't delay the release of Inquisition for another year. They should have released the game by Fall 2014.

(Footnote: White Box is an outline of a stage of the game with no art added and its use is quick testing and sketching. It's primitive. In some studios, it's called the Gray Box, and in others it's called the Black Box. The fact that such a simple concept doesn't have a standardized name shows how young the game industry is.)

BingMag.com Don’t make a game with an engine you don’t know! The Making of Dragon Age: Inquisition (Blood, Sweat, and Pixels – Part 7)

Dara and his team members were faced with two options: the first option was to release an incomplete game. Be satisfied that it was full of unreviewed parts and untested ideas. In the world in which Dragon Age 2 was released, this didn't seem like a good idea at all. They couldn't let the fans down again. It was necessary to revise and reform all aspects of the Inquisition. "I think Inquisition is a direct reaction to Dragon Age 2," said Cameron Lee. Inquisition was much bigger than it should have been. The game was filled to the brim with content, to the point where we thought we were overdoing it... I think the release of Dragon Age 2 and the negative feedback we got from it motivated the team to put as much effort into the game as possible and try to do everything possible.

The second option was to crunch. During the process of making Inquisition, the members of the production team experienced overtime in several periods, but this was supposed to be the worst overtime in the history of the game. They had to stay in the office late at night for months and come to work on weekends. As Shin Hauko put it, this caused them to lose "a lot of family time." "I loved never having to do crunches," said Erin Flynn. I think the future will tell if crunching works or not. Obviously there are a lot of posts arguing that Crunch doesn't work. But I think everyone gets involved in a situation in their career where they say to themselves: I don't think I have any other choice but this." He would go to the grocery store, pick up a bag of Cheetos, and come back home and turn off his brain in front of the TV. "Sometimes you're at work for 12 to 14 hours," Eppler said. When you're on your way home, you think: All I want to do now is re-watch the series I've already watched a hundred times, and eat fast food I've already watched a hundred times. I've eaten, I'll eat again, because these things make me feel comfortable and I know where they're going to end up. "Because every day at work something unexpected is going to happen and you anxiously tell someone to check something." When store clerks began to recognize him, he knew he needed to change his lifestyle as quickly as possible. First, they finished making the game. They perfected the "influence" system that allowed the player to collect influence for the guild by roaming the game world and solving other people's problems. They filled the deserts and swamps of Inquisition's world with side quests, hidden treasures, and astrological puzzles. Ideas that didn't work, like reactive environments (destructible ladders, mud that sticks to your shoes) were permanently removed from the game. According to the count of one of the producers of the game, the writers wrote the prologue part of the game at least six times from the beginning, but they did not have enough time to pay so much attention to the end of the game. A few months before the release of the game, features were added to the game, which later turned out to be of vital importance; Features such as a "jump" button that allowed the inspector to jump over fences and smoothly climb mountains (in the old video game tradition where if you jump on a ledge enough times, you can reach the top).

BingMag.com Don’t make a game with an engine you don’t know! The Making of Dragon Age: Inquisition (Blood, Sweat, and Pixels – Part 7)

The production team originally had Inquisition ready for October, but in the summer it was called "polishing". They pushed it back another six weeks. Polishing is a part of the game development process where all the content and features of the game are fully included and the only thing left is to optimize and fix the game's bugs. "Inquisition had about ninety-nine thousand bugs," said Mark Dara. This figure is real and may need an explanation, because we classify bugs into two categories: quantitative and qualitative, so even if one person gets bored at one point in the game, this is also considered a bug."

Ben McGrath, lead game environment designer, said: "I've never seen anything like the amount of bugs in a Dunyaaz game. But it's very easy to fix them all, so whenever a bug appears in the game, we will fix it." For Bioware, it was much more difficult to discover all the bugs. Finding bugs required trial and error from the QA team, who spent seemingly endless nights testing everything from the intricacies of the construction system to jumping off the edge of a mountain and falling into the game's environment.

BingMag.com Don’t make a game with an engine you don’t know! The Making of Dragon Age: Inquisition (Blood, Sweat, and Pixels – Part 7)

Marc Dara, tasked with guiding the Inquisition's pirate ship to its last port, had a strong instinct for spotting bugs worth fixing (for example, one such bug was that you could jump on top of your fellow dwarves and access places where weren't normally accessible) and bugs that weren't worth fixing (like a bug where part of your weapon went through a wall). When making an open-world RPG of this scale, it would be unreasonable (and incredibly time-consuming) to fix all the bugs, so they needed to prioritize. One of the factors that helped them in this field was that the game development team was full of experienced people and they had reached a certain degree of harmony with each other over the years of cooperation. "Muscle memory is very effective at this point," said Cameron Lee. Gamemaking is hell sometimes, but a hell that makes you a unified and harmonious squad, so that we all understand what the others are thinking and we understand the expectations of the others and we know what needs to be done and we just do it. /p>

Finally, they reached their goal. On November 18, 2014, BioWare released Dragon Age: Inquisition despite the many challenges of working with the Frostbite engine. "I think even at launch, all our tools," said Mark Dara They didn't work "perfectly"; They just worked 'enough.'

In a short period of time, Inquisition became the best-selling Dragon Age title; In fact, within weeks, sales of the game exceeded EA's expectations. The game's combat system was fun (but occasionally chaotic), the environments were beautiful, and the characters were well-rounded thanks to top-notch writing and voice acting (thanks to a great performance by teenage star Freddie Prinze Jr.). The former noted as Iron Bull.) In one of the game's standout scenes, which takes place right after the player's base is destroyed, the scattered remnants of the Inspector's army are shown singing a hopeful song together: The dawn will come. Inquisition was, in many ways, a successful game.

However, if you look a little closer at the game, you will see traces of its chaotic production process. One of the first things you see in the game is an area called The Hinterlands, an area of forests and fields that serve as the first open world environment of Dragon Age. The backlands were full of Fetch Questswhat Dara called "garbage"in which you had to gather herbs for someone and kill a bunch of wolves. These missions were good for killing time, but compared to the main and interesting mission of Inquisition, they seemed like a chore.

BingMag.com Don’t make a game with an engine you don’t know! The Making of Dragon Age: Inquisition (Blood, Sweat, and Pixels – Part 7)

The problem was that few people went out and saw the original story. Some players didn't realize that they could leave the backlands and return to their home base of Haven to start the next main story mission. Other players fell into a strange cycle of compulsive gratification, forcing themselves to complete all the side quests in the backlands before leaving (the title of one of my most popular articles on Kotaku during the first week of Inquisition's launch was: If you're playing Inquisition, get out of the backlands.)

Internet pundits were quick to blame the problem on "lazy game developers," but it was a natural result of the struggles surrounding Inquisition's development. If the game developers had another year to work on the game, or if they had the opportunity to spend a few years getting to know Frostbite before making the game, maybe these missions would have been more interesting. Maybe they would be less boring. Maybe there were more twists and surprises in them, like the side missions we saw in The Witcher 3 a few months later. Erin Flynn said: "The challenges of the Backlands region and what it revealed about the first ten hours of Dragon Age were precisely the challenges of learning to build an open world and its mechanics for a studio that had previously been designing linear narratives."

With all these interpretations, it was considered a victory for Bioware Inquisition. Erin Flynn, Mark Dara and the rest of the game team had succeeded. "Dragon Age 2 was a big challenge in terms of time constraints," said Mike Laidla. Dragon Age: Inquisition was the product of a great challenge in terms of lack of technical know-how. But the game had enough time to mature and that's why it turned into a much better game."

Continues

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