I adore the tarot cards in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Whoever came up with the idea, I could kiss you. I could happily look at the cards all day - and I have, sorry colleagues. I have bought them to frame and hang on my wall, and I've never done anything like that before. It's odd - Dragon Age isn't known for its art. Origins was ugly and Dragon Age 2 was all over the place, caught between old and new. They had art, but it wasn't important. But with Inquisition it changed.
Mike Laidlaw can still remember his first day at BioWare, even though it was over 15 years ago. He even remembers the date he answered the phone and found out he had got the job: 23rd December 2002. Laidlaw was used to answering the phone; at the time he was working at Bell, Canada's largest telecommunications company, in the province of Ontario. When Laidlaw first joined Bell's call centre, he worked the phones. Later, he got promoted to lead a team on the phones, "which was somehow way worse than being on the phones," Laidlaw told me last March, the day after his star turn at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. "I went in and said, I'm sorry, I'm quitting. I'm not coming in tomorrow. They said, 'you can't quit two days before Christmas! If you quit you'll never work here again!' I said, 'that is pretty much the plan, yes.' So I walked out, and a bunch of people high-fived me because - yay! - I got out."
Dragon Age: Origins marked the point at which western RPGs properly moved into the spotlight. Knights Of The Old Republic laid the groundwork, combining a surprisingly geeky implementation of Dungeons and Dragons rules with its direct player control and swishy lightsabers. Jade Empire then tried to take it somewhere new, only to stumble right out of the gate. It modernised the genre, offering something fresh, but it never really got its due.
Bonnie and Clyde. Morecambe and Wise. Zeschuk and Muzyka. Only two of them sound like words made up by someone trying to cheat at Scrabble, but all of them are known for being highly successful partnerships. Whether you're all about murderous crime sprees, dancing with Angela Rippon or setting up Canadian development studios focused on producing globally successful role-playing videogames in the sci-fi and fantasy genres, it takes two to make an impact.
What I take away from Dragon Age is a sense of having been somewhere. No, more than that. Having lived somewhere. In most well-established gaming worlds I feel as though I've been a visitor. Dragon Age was my home.
Say what you like about BioWare - the Canadian RPG specialists always did think big, and they've never thought bigger than they are right now. While the Austin-based offshoot prepares the company's maiden foray into MMOs with the huge Star Wars: The Old Republic, home base is about to make not one but two monster releases - Mass Effect 2 in January, and Dragon Age: Origins next month.
If you're a game developer who's prone to epileptic fits, repeated coronary occlusions, or regular spells of choking during lunch, you could do a lot worse than seek employment with BioWare, an RPG house run by not one, but two, MDs. With the release of Dragon Age: Origins looming, and a merger with stable-mate Mythic, the developer behind Warhammer Online, recently announced by parent company EA, we caught up with co-founder Dr Greg Zeschuk to discuss the ramifications of the new organisational structure, and what we can expect from the studio's latest, significantly darker take on fantasy. We also asked what he made of this strange lump on our neck. (It turned out to be peanut butter.)
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.
Mike Laidlaw - Dragon Age: Origins' lead designer - stands centre-stage in front of a crowd of games journalists extolling the core values of Dragon Age. Those being violence, lust and betrayal. Which means that Dragon Age is much like Eurogamer around closing time, but that's neither here nor there.
Since Baldur's Gate, BioWare has been on a worldwide genre tour. It took on the mighty, crap-spattered Star Wars franchise with almost unqualified success. It weaved a fantastical Far East adventure, blending martial arts with fairy-tale machinery. It created a completely new space-fi world with Mass Effect, and... well, it did Sonic Chronicles, too.
This week we've already guided you through the coming year's hot picks for Indie and Esoterica and Sports and Music games. Still to come are Fighting, Strategy, Action, Adventure, Shooters and Racing. But today we're looking at two sectors with the same dice-rolling roots that are heading in more than two different directions in 2009 - role-playing games (RPGs), and massively multiplayer online games (MMOs).
BioWare may continually refer to Dragon Age: Origins as a spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate, but that game came out a long time ago, and for one reason or another Origins left us a little cold at E3 in July. Certainly we had none of the excitement left by Blizzard after Diablo III was revealed in style back in June.
The subtitle says it all - and BioWare isn't exactly trying to disguise its ambitions, either. The E3 demo of Dragon Age: Origins we saw was presented by Dan Tudge, pointedly introduced as executive producer of the franchise. Days earlier, Greg Zeschuk had confirmed the nascent series will come to consoles in some form, after this PC game. This one will run and run, if BioWare and EA get their way; we may now know that the studio's in-development MMO is no Dragon Age, but we'd be surprised if that idea wasn't already twinkling in someone's eye.