It takes a lot of components to make a great game. You need glamorous stuff like lax unpaid overtime regulations, dangerous quantities of Diet Coke, and dozens of cubicles filled with half-built LEGO Mindstorm Robots. Also, throwing in a skateboarding chipmunk named Jimmy Lightning doesn't hurt.
But it also takes patience: vast reserves of patience. Consider Dragon Age, BioWare's latest blood-flecked, scaly, axe-battered moral playground: in order to get this one up and running, the development team first had to invent roughly 5,000 years of lore to give the game a genuine sense of depth. Then they had to build convincing digital actors, capable of delivering performances more nuanced than the average muddle of pantomime shrugs and fist-shaking that makes up most videogame cut-scenes.
Finally, before they've even had a chance to appear on Fox News to defend themselves from charges that they're trying to warp tweenagers' brains with loathsome interactive pornography, they've had to find a way to explain the massive scope of the entire enterprise to the games press. They've had to explain it to the likes of me, in other words: people whose brains have long been addled by constant sugar highs and too many Mini Cheddars, people who struggle to pay attention to any single subject for the space of even half an hour without being given either a free T-shirt or another donut to keep them ticking over.
BioWare's hit on an elaborate solution this time around. After the game's last showing featured a confusing couple of minutes of sexy slaughter speed-cut to strangely inappropriate sports rock, we're now getting a more serious look at the project the team's been working on for the best part of a decade. With the release creeping steadily closer, the developers want to show us that Dragon Age: Origins isn't just about whittling dwarfs into gooey chunks with flashy magic spells, or bedding sultry female minstrels for the price of a few groats. It's not even just about dragons. It's about choices: meaningful choices that really impact the way a gigantic story unfolds.
It's an agenda we've heard before, but developers have rarely gone to so much trouble to give us a taste of it in action. And that's where that elaborate solution comes in: our latest glimpse of a single section of Dragon Age on PC plays out on two separate machines wired up to two separate HD displays, while two separate party load-outs explore the same in-game situation with very different outcomes. It's taken a lot of cables, then, and EA has gone one step further, hiring eighties dual-keyboard wizard Howard Jones to run the complex presentation, too.
Okay, I made the last bit up. But it has taken a lot of cables. Luckily, the results appear to be worth it. Things start off fairly simply: the first thing our two parties - one containing a saucy, and fairly mean-spirited, female mage, the other rounded out with a hulking warrior - find themselves faced with is a guard who doesn't want to let us across a river. RPGs are filled with this kind of scenario. In fact, when was the last time someone stuck in the middle of a medieval fantasy world did want to let you across a river?