BioWare talks Dragon Age delay, DLC

Q&A: Executive producer Mark Darrah talks about RPG's November slip, preorder bonuses, Baldur's Gate homages, sequels, and two-years' worth of DLC.

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August began with news that one of the most anticipated role-playing games of the year, Dragon Age: Origins, had been delayed. The game's slip to November 3 was only a few weeks' postponement for the PC and Xbox 360 versions. However, it might be as much as a month for the still-undated PlayStation 3 edition to hit store shelves, since it still only has a "November" release date.

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Luckily for developer BioWare and publisher Electronic Arts, Dragon Age's path to November has been cleared by a flurry of delays. Onetime fall releases MAG, Bayonetta, Singularity, Splinter Cell: Conviction, Red Steel 2, Red Dead Redemption, Mafia II, BioShock 2, and Starcraft II have all slipped into 2010, leaving the 2009 holiday quarter more open than any time in recent memory. Did the relatively sparse competition cause BioWare to shift the game away from going head-to-head with 2K Games' role-playing game, Borderlands? Was it the allure of a choice slot closer to Thanksgiving? Or was the delay merely to give the fantasy game, which was first announced in May 2004, one final coat of dark and violent polish?

GameSpot spoke with Dragon Age: Origins executive produce Mark Darrah (pictured) to find out about the delay and the game's ample bonus material. All those who purchase the game new will be able to download the additional content pack The Stone Prisoner and a set of "blood armor," which can be worn both in Dragon Age and in BioWare's early 2010 sci-fi game, Mass Effect 2. Those who pick the game up used will be able to purchase the Stone Prisoner add-on for $15. Also, all preorders will include an in-game ring that adds experience and skill points.

GameSpot: So why was Dragon Age delayed?

Mark Darrah: It's just taking an extra couple of weeks to get through the finalization process. We'll take any opportunity to spend a little bit more time making the game even better.

GS: So it didn't have anything to do with the fact that multiple game delays have left the fourth quarter more open than in the past few years?

MD: I think we try to make our games stand on their own. It's not about competing with other products; it's about making the game that our fans and the gaming public in general are going to like and enjoy.

GS: OK, now Dragon Age is a new intellectual property. [EA CEO] John Riccitiello and [EA Games president] Frank Gibeau have said they wished they could have handled the launch of the new IPs Mirror's Edge and Dead Space better. What lessons from those launches are you applying to Dragon Age?

MD: I don't think Dragon Age is the same situation. We've had a lot more time to establish the IP and build this up as a brand in and of itself. We're really comfortable with the game that we're delivering and the products and IP in the world that we've established. Also, BioWare is a brand that people know and people respect for quality, and that's what we're doing right here.

GS: I noticed the PS3 version is lagging behind the 360 and PC. Have you set a final date for that edition yet?

MD: That should be coming really soon. What we can say right now is it's later in November.

GS: Why exactly is it lagging behind the PC and 360 version? Does it require additional work? I know this is BioWare's first PS3 game.

MD: It's just the finalization process. What we've done is led development on the PC, and then we've been perfecting it on one platform at a time. So, the PS3 will be released pretty soon after the other editions, but it's just going to be the last one that gets that final touch of quality.

GS: So in terms of Dragon Age's preorder bonuses, both the regular and collector's edition of the game come with an item that gives 1 percent more experience and one bonus point for characters' skill sets. [All-new purchases] also come with the Stone Prisoner extra content, which gives them a stone golem non-player character. Obviously, those are moves to attract more presales of the game and dissuade used-game sales.

MD: This is about rewarding our hardcore fans, the people that love BioWare and they want to see it that first day or even want to buy the game before it's available. So, this is about providing content for them and rewarding people who buy the game new.

GS: The Stone Prisoner sounds like it's going to be a pretty substantial add-on since you're selling it separately for 15 bucks. How big is it going to be?

MD: Well, it's huge. It introduces a whole new character, and this is a character that's as complicated and well fleshed out as any other character in the main game. You're also getting full voice-over and plots and things like that. The Stone Prisoner is going to be offered for free for anyone who purchases any new copy of Dragon Age, collector's edition or not.

GS: So how many hours of play time does the Stone Prisoner add?

MD: It's kind of hard to quantify that. The way that the character works in Dragon Age is they're along in your party, they're interjecting throughout the game, they're talking with other characters in your party, they're commenting on areas as you visit them. So, in one way, it's 60 hours or 70 hours of content because if you put this character in your party right away, it's going to enrich it and affect your experience throughout the entire game.

GS: And in terms of it being sold separately, it will be DLC on all three platforms.

MD: Correct.

GS: OK, speaking of DLC, with Mass Effect, initially BioWare had announced that it would be adding new planets, systems, and quests as DLC regularly after its 2007 release. That didn't really happen, and a lot of fans--including myself--were pretty disappointed. So what is the DLC plan for Dragon Age, and what guarantees can you offer to gamers that the same thing won't happen to it that happened to Mass Effect? I mean, Fallout 3 has been getting a new DLC pack every two months this year like clockwork...

MD: We have a two-year-of-DLC plan for Dragon Age, so we're going to be supporting this product well after it's launched with all kinds of things--new items, new plots, new areas, everything you could imagine. But yeah, I think the stuff that Fallout 3 delivered is great, and we will be looking at doing stuff in that similar vein, as well as new things that you haven't seen before.

GS: How far are you staggering the first DLC from the game's release?

MD: We haven't really released any specific plans, but we're going to try to keep stuff tight and close together. We don't want you waiting six months before the first new Dragon Age content.

GS: OK. The other question is I know that when the suffix "Origins" was added to Dragon Age, it sparked talk of a trilogy. Is that the case?

MD: Dragon Age is about building a franchise, it's not about being a trilogy or anything like that. It's about establishing a world where we can tell lots of stories in lots of different ways in the future.

GS: Well, I guess my greater question was how a robust DLC schedule will affect development of a Dragon Age sequel? It seems like for Mass Effect, the DLC plans were pushed aside so work could begin on Mass Effect 2.

MD: I don't think so. I don't think they're contradictory plans in any way.

GS: Right. Now, I've heard BioWare is billing Dragon Age as the "spiritual successor" to Baldur's Gate. What exactly does that mean?

MD: Well I worked on the first Baldur's Gate, and I was lead programmer on Baldur's Gate II. For me, it is about capturing the feeling that you got when you were playing that game. It's about the depth, the breadth of storytelling. It's about tactical choices in combat. It's about everything that made you excited about playing the role-playing game back in the Baldur's Gate days. We're reinventing it and bringing it forward into today and, you know, modernizing it a little bit.

GS: It certainly seems modernized. That E3 trailer made a big stir, with all the sex and violence.

MD: Well, Dragon Age is a dark, brutal, violent game. It's not a high fantasy game from a traditional standpoint. It's a mature game for mature audiences.

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