Back stage at Matter in the gargantuan O2 Arena (surely a perfect fit for the next Dead Rising game), BioWare founders Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka sit relaxed and waiting for press to quiz them on the likes of Mass Effect 2 for PS3, Dragon Age II and Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Recently though, the internet threw a spanner in the works. An anonymous rant posted by "EA Louse" raged at the management of Warhammer Online studio BioWare Mythic. He or she even had a dig at forthcoming MMO The Old Republic, saying, "It will be one of the greatest failures in the history of MMOs from EA."
Speaking to Eurogamer at the O2, the Doctors defend their ambitious MMO from that anonymous criticism, and also explain why they believe the next generation of consoles isn't needed yet. Finally, they play a pretty straight bat when bowled questions surrounding Mass Effect 3...
Eurogamer: Do you buy Microsoft's claim that Kinect will extend the life of the Xbox 360 by five years?
Ray Muzyka: I'm pretty sure it'll extend it by some amount. It's hard to say exactly how much.
Greg Zeschuk: On the one hand I'd like to believe it as a developer, because the longer we can get out of a platform the better our games are going to get, the more we'll know about it. But we'll see. No one wants to run off and pull the lever on the next generation yet. Everyone's invested so much on this one. I remember the first couple of years of this generation was really painful. And so it's like, hey, pull the lever, let's do another one.
Five seems... It might be possible. I hope it's a long time.
Eurogamer: Is there much left from the current generation to push visuals? Are you getting to the point where this is as good as it gets on this generation?
Ray Muzyka: Every year you learn a few new tricks about how to optimise more and put a lot more into the animation and figure out new ways to blend animations and fidelity of character expressions and facial expressions and eye movements. The small adjustments make a big difference in the end. We're learning every year.
Our teams get better and better every generation of product. There's still more to do on this current generation of hardware. The next generations of hardware will probably enable even more, but there's still more to do.
Greg Zeschuk: The tools outside the game and your average desktop machine you use to build the content... it's crazy. If you think of the Xbox as a playback machine, we can make more and more complex animations and facial expressions outside it on these better and better workstations and then import those in.
We do a lot of stuff outside the game that generic box A will render regardless. That's what's extending it.
Ray Muzyka: The fidelity of textures goes up, the resolution is higher, more animation content. A lot of that is memory management and optimisation of the content flow.
Greg Zeschuk: You can optimise stuff for years. It's like this never-ending thing and being smart.
Ray Muzyka: Compression algorithms for audio, texture compression algorithms and animation compression. Even a lot of it is real time rendered now, too. The fidelity of that's going up so it's just as high as the pre-rendered animations now.
Greg Zeschuk: The key thing is knowing there's a future and then you're willing to invest that time to optimise. What's always happened is everyone goes, oh, it's just five years. So by year four, forget it. It's a question of when you start working on the next platform. The same guys make this one get even further. It's like, when do you actually swap them onto the next big thing?
If this one can extend, then that would be great.
Eurogamer: Let's talk about Dragon Age II. What's the plan for the franchise? Do you have a story mapped out for X amount of games?
Ray Muzyka: We haven't announced other products in the franchise yet, but we are working on some other ideas in the Dragon Age universe already.
It's more of a universe view as opposed to a chronological story view. We've always seen it as a world and there are many stories being told throughout this world.
We're bringing it to a new area, like Free Marches in Dragon Age II and some other areas, Kirkwall and so on. Dragon Age: Origins had some different areas in Ferelden. Other products in the Dragon Age universe will probably bring it to other places, still.
So it's more of a world view, and there are lots of cool areas we haven't explored yet. So we're excited to show fans those.
Greg Zeschuk: It's probably fair to say it's less precise than the Mass Effect trilogy concept, because Mass Effect had a real distinct trilogy. But a similar amount of thinking went into it.
Dragon Age: Origins, there's an enormous amount of back story. When we create a property like that, you think about major world events. It's fun then to make the games around the major world events.
Ray Muzyka: There's a whole timeline written out, a story arc that goes before and after the Dragon Age: Origins events or the Dragon Age II events. It's neat to see this roadmap of history. We're just showing a snap shot of time in this universe. There's all this other cool stuff on both sides and all this other stuff that's there and gives the world a place.
You might run into characters from other parts of the world. It's not just a random character running around. The two games overlap – geographic and timeline overlaps. The last part of Dragon Age II occurs during the tail end of the Blight, when you're fleeing Lothering. You see some flames and you're a refugee at that point and you ascend to greater heights as a champion.
Eurogamer: Have you decided on the massive world event you'll use as a basis for the third game?
Ray Muzyka: Maybe.
Greg Zeschuk: It's called the great Beard Shaving.
Eurogamer: Are we done with DLC for Mass Effect 2?
Greg Zeschuk: We're told we're still in development. We're not done yet. We're still ongoing.
Ray Muzyka: We haven't announced details of the next ones yet. We're still working on stuff in the Mass Effect universe actively. We haven't announced any details of what that is yet, but we're working on lots cool stuff.
Greg Zeschuk: We have a pretty long DLC plan for Mass. We're still doing lots of stuff there.
Eurogamer: Mass Effect 3 is a confirmed game.
Greg Zeschuk: We haven't officially announced it.
Ray Muzyka: That might have been what I was talking about. There's a whole range of different things. My answer didn't say anything about DLC. We just haven't announced anything on Mass for the future.
Eurogamer: When will you make some noise about Mass Effect 3?
Ray Muzyka: We have said it's a trilogy, so it's a good guess there's a third one coming. Beyond that, we haven't announced it yet.
Eurogamer: When will you announce it?
Ray Muzyka: Some time.
Greg Zeschuk: On the right day we'll announce it.
Ray Muzyka: Next up we have Mass Effect 2 on PS3. That's our next focus for Mass Effect.
Eurogamer: When will Star Wars: The Old Republic be out?
Ray Muzyka: Next year.
Eurogamer: Can you at least say whether it'll be the first half or the second half of the year?
Ray Muzyka: No. We're just saying 2011.
Eurogamer: EA Louse. When you first read it, what was your immediate reaction?
Greg Zeschuk: We're disappointed in the sense of someone having that unfortunate perspective. That's how I would describe it.
Ray Muzyka: It was sad to read that kind of stuff. We just won a top 100 employers award for BioWare. We invest a lot in quality of the workplace. It's really important to us. We take it seriously. The BioWare Mythic team is part of the BioWare group. I know the people that work there. They care. They feel the same way that the other leaders across BioWare and EA feel.
Talking about BioWare specifically, we invest a lot in that. That's one of our core values. We do a lot of things to try and make sure people are taken care of. That's our approach and it's unwavering and it's steadfast. We're committed to that.
That kind of stuff – we don't respond to rumours and speculation by people that are ill-informed. We're committed to quality in the workplace.
Eurogamer: My feeling was it had a degree of credibility.
Ray Muzyka: It's hard to know what their speculative motivation is. It's hard to speculate on that. It's rumour.
Eurogamer: So you don't consider it to have been from someone who works for EA?
Greg Zeschuk: How do you know? The reality of it is when you take an anonymous space it's like, you don't really know where it's from. Regardless, we're always focused on making the best possible workplace. That kind of stuff doesn't really come into play for us – whatever crazy online communication.
We try to focus on making a great place to work, making great products. But you never know. If it's anonymous, there's no proof of anything. You can claim anything, right?
Eurogamer: To me it read as if there was a degree of inside knowledge. It felt credible to me.
Ray Muzyka: The way we like to respond to actual feedback is we act on it. We meet with staff at every studio on a regular basis, and we try to describe some of the things we do to achieve quality in the workplace.
I do this and all the GMs at every location do this. We sit down and do an open forum with all the employees and get feedback from them. We welcome one-on-one feedback. When we get stuff we can improve and act on we do it.
Rumours and speculation delivered in an anonymous fashion – it's really hard to respond to that. So we don't. Instead we focus on every day making the workplace a great place for all the people we work with. We're committed to that.
Eurogamer: EA Louse talked about how much The Old Republic has cost to make. How much of a risk is it? Is it financially a massive risk?
Ray Muzyka: It's a tremendous opportunity. It's a big bet, but it's the right kind of bet to make for EA. It's the right kind of bet for BioWare to make. It's taking everything we know from the last 15 to 20 years of development experience and place some amazing people onto the team, with MMO experience as well as RPG experience.
The team is a group I'm really proud of. They're working really hard to deliver this great game. It's got a lot of content. It's taking the best of features from other products like MMOs and putting them together with something BioWare's known for: the story, choice and consequence, but not losing anything in the translation - exploration, combat, customisation, progression.
So in that sense it's really a smart decision. It's a pretty good bet for a studio group like BioWare to be building right now. We see it as more opportunity than anything else.
Greg Zeschuk: Hey, entertainment's risky by nature. You put out an album, sometimes it's successful, sometimes it's not.
We're bringing to bear an incredible amount of talent and focus on something that also happens to be the biggest brand in the world. Everything works out, we're all pretty happy.
Eurogamer: Has it got a genuine shot at actually challenging World of Warcraft?
Ray Muzyka: We don't talk about the competition that much. We play all our competitors' games. We have great respect for all of them. Blizzard is a group we have a lot of respect for. They do great work.
We're not worried about the competition because we're striving to make the very best games of their type when they come out. We have a great licence, a great partnership with LucasArts. Star Wars, it's pretty popular. A lot of people like that. We're embracing that licence fully. We love it. And we know millions and millions of people out there love this universe, and we're delivering a great game experience in that universe.
And it's a great BioWare type experience in a massively multiplayer space in a Star Wars setting. Those seem to be some pretty good factors that have set us up for massive success. Beyond that, we just build the best game we can.
We're certainly making a game that has a lot of value long-term and it's going to be a great experience for fans who love Star Wars or BioWare games or MMOs generally or just a great online experience with their friends.
Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk are the co-founders of BioWare.