Jade Empire, BioWare's long-awaited first party exclusive Xbox RPG has finally been revealed, and numerous juicy details about the project have emerged, firstly via a fairly unrevealing press release, and secondly via a Gamespot interview with BioWare's joint CEOs, Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk.
According to Microsoft's official blurb Jade Empire "casts players in the role of a martial arts master [in mythical China] and lets them choose between good and evil, choices that will follow them throughout the land, changing the course of interaction with other characters and followers."
The game will apparently be "a stunning visual and gameplay experience" and feature "furious action previously found only in Hong Kong cinema". The game "lets players master more than 30 fighting styles and a wide range of mystical powers as they embark on a perilous journey, stretching from the Land of Howling Spirits to the lush gardens of the Imperial City."
But beyond that, it offers little enlightening info, so we've grabbed the best bits of Gamespot's interview with Bioware for your consumption...
On the plot. "The game is set in the Jade Empire, a mythical version of ancient China. We've drawn on the literature, mythology, and legends of ancient China to create a sort of alternate world - a China that might have been, if all the stories were true. The landscapes are lush and gorgeous, full of colourful characters and dangerous enemies, and rendered with a brand-new second-generation graphics engine.
"You'll find that the epic storyline and the feeling of non-linear freedom, as you explore, is similar to the feeling the storyline evoked in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. We found that the ability of players to role-play as either an evil or good character was very popular with fans of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, so we're trying to build on that even more in Jade."
On the setting. "In terms of settings, one notable area is the imperial palace, which is an immense floating bronze city located at the precise astrological centre of the Jade Empire. Flowing from great stone fountainheads to the countryside below are streams of pure, clear water. The Emperor's magical creation of this water has brought prosperity and peace to the land. Another cool area is the player's starting town: a small, walled martial arts school in the rural Golden Delta province. This town is located at the nexus of two rivers and stands on the site of an ancient settlement - one of the oldest in the Jade Empire.
"You start out as a student in a martial arts school, asked to investigate the mysterious appearance of spirits and ghosts in the region around the school. This is just the beginning of a grand adventure in the BioWare RPG tradition."
On the concept. "[We] been thinking about the idea behind Jade Empire for many years now, since around the time we incorporated BioWare in 1995. We've always found the concept compelling, and we wanted to wait until the right time in BioWare's history to develop this title. We wanted to ensure that we had the experience, as a company, to build BioWare's first new intellectual property project, and, furthermore, we wanted to wait until we had the ideal platform to develop on."
On the tech. "The new Jade Empire graphics engine has more than twice the number of render paths that Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic had, and it has cool new features, like physics-based cloth, rim lighting, and an entirely new skeleton built to accommodate motion-captured animation."
"The sound engine is designed to produce the most cinematic experience possible and puts incredible control in the hands of our audio engineers. The distinctive setting, the detailed combat system, as well as the lush area and character graphics (roughly two to three times the number of polys per character compared to Knights), the animation system (Jade Empire's animation is fully motion-captured, a first for BioWare) and the storyline - rich, deep, non-linear, and full of replayable options in the BioWare tradition - will really set Jade Empire apart."
On future projects. "We actually have three new intellectual properties in development, currently. One of them is Jade Empire; the others won't be announced for some time. We're also exploring ideas, like digital distribution for post-release content, as well as the idea of partnering with talented development studios to be able to create more products at BioWare. [We're also exploring the] taking of strong storylines and character development into new genres, in effect, merging RPGs with other types of games.
"One area we are examining is in partnering with other groups to help develop titles together. There are a lot of great people out there making games, and the industry is becoming more competitive with each passing year. We really do have more opportunities than we can handle, so why not share?"