Eurogamer: What do you say when people accuse Dragon Age II of being a console game?
Mike Laidlaw: There may be some element of... I guess it's fear that if the PC has certain capabilities and they're not being used 100 per cent of the way then the game must have inherently had things removed because of that. I can understand that. I paid a fair amount of money for my gaming rig and I love to be able to crank it up and push it up. But the simple truth is that PC gaming has never been a platform of a single hardware spec. You've always had to support both lower-end and higher-end PCs. You don't want to design a game that cuts out everyone except the guy who bought his computer this month.
Origins had this legacy of being designed for PC. That was an early and strong opening message when it was first announced in yesteryear, back when we were working on Jade Empire, which was for console. There's definitely a sense that if you didn't design it for PC only then there's some sense of abandonment. Our goal was always to design a good game and move some sliders, as it were, in terms of how fantasy RPGS are typically presented, both from a story and combat standpoint. Doing that is not really a platform-specific choice.
Eurogamer: Did Mass Effect influence the evolution of Dragon Age?
Mike Laidlaw: Having technology in proximity for the conversation system certainly had an influence on Dragon Age. We decided for Dragon Age II that we wanted a voice for the player fairly early on and so there was an obvious... Well, what would be the best system we have - readily accessible, easily transported, writers who are familiar with it? And all of that made that a very simple thing.
In terms of other elements of Mass Effect influencing it: I wouldn't say so. They're very, very different beasts - a cover-based shooter set in space is going to be very different than a 'fantasy control four players at once with a heavier tactical bent' kind of game. We certainly looked at the work Mass did and all of us played it several times, but I wouldn't say it had a direct influence other than the way we're doing the writing and player voice-over.
Eurogamer: The Metacritic score for Dragon Age II (at the time of writing) is 82 per cent. Is that in-line with expectations?
Mike Laidlaw: It's a little bit lower than we were expecting. We knew going in that this may not sit around the same spot as Origins on all platforms (86 for the 360). There's been, I would say, more strongly negative reviews appearing on Metacritic than I expected. I'm a little surprised by the 6/10s and they have a fair amount of weight early on. If the Metacritic isn't where we want it to be, and honestly our goal as a studio is to try and aim more for 90, then our next step will be to, very easily, go through those reviews, go through fan feedback, especially over some time - as opposed to the day-one initial response - and look at that in a measured way and say, what didn't work, what did work, where did we go too far, where did we not go far enough, where was there just an inherent dissonance, and try to refine the experience and try to move forward for any future products.
Honestly, it's always a learning process. Dragon Age II comes out of some things we'd identified for Origins and anything we do in the future is going to come out of this response to Dragon Age II.
Eurogamer: One stronger criticism levelled at Dragon Age II was that it was designed by committee; it tried too hard to appeal too far and wide, and in doing so it lost a sense of self. What do you say to that?
Mike Laidlaw: Dragon Age II was designed by just the senior, core team. Honestly I don't feel it's a game that's been designed to appeal far and wide and so on. If it were, there were choices we could have made that would have taken it much, much further. We would have probably simplified down to a single character, maybe with companions; probably looked at doing some even deeper changes to inventory management, making sure that... You wouldn't want to confuse people with enchanting or anything complex like that. Really what we wanted to do with the game, just talking about first-principles, was to look at elements of Origins that were over complex and needlessly so and see if we could pull those out in a clean way and didn't take out what I always saw as core elements of the experience: strong, character-driven stories, and the idea that the combat should be a party working together, especially at higher difficulty levels.
Dragon Age II certainly made some changes but holds very true to what us as a team sees as core tenets of the series. There's certainly refinement to do, there's learnings to be had, but I don't think it loses as much of the personality as it certainly could have.