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BioWare: Lots Of People Aren't Aware They're 'Ready To Play RPGs'
BioWare: Lots Of People Aren't Aware They're 'Ready To Play RPGs'
February 25, 2011 | By Staff

February 25, 2011 | By Staff
More: Console/PC

People are ready for deeper role-playing video games -- the problem is that a lot of them just don't know it yet, according to BioWare's Dragon Age II lead designer Mike Laidlaw.

"For me, I guess, fundamentally, there are more people who are ready to play RPGs than realize it," he said in a new Gamasutra interview.

"These are people who will play FarmVille," he added. "These are people who have shot enough people in the head that they've leveled up in Medal of Honor. They've gained XP and have received awards as a result. That's an RPG mechanic. They've played [Grand Theft Auto] San Andreas and they've run enough, and gotten buff enough, that their endurance is a higher. They've leveled."

Laidlaw continued, "It's honestly on RPGs to try to figure out how to take the mechanics that people are actually loving in other genres and say, 'No, no, no. We had those years ago, but we understand that they kind of were scary.'"

Laidlaw was addressing the question of how BioWare plans to target a wider audience with Dragon Age II, due next month and published by BioWare parent Electronic Arts. The game is the sequel to 2009's Dragon Age: Origins.

Fans of the original game have expressed some concern that BioWare would "dumb down" the sequel in order to achieve wider commercial appeal. But Laidlaw said there was no mandate to sell a certain amount of copies through dumbing down the original game's design.

"...The combat has become responsive and faster [in Dragon Age II]," Laidlaw said. "I think that from a certain point of view that means -- to use internet parlance -- 'OMG you are dumbs down like action game!'"

"I mean there were decisions that we made as a team that said, 'Okay, this is, I think, more welcoming,'" said Laidlaw. "Not 'dumbed down' or anything like that, but welcoming."

For more from Laidlaw on the tricky act of accessibility in RPGs and listening to community input in the creation of Dragon Age II, read the full Gamasutra feature, available now.

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Christian Rudolph
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I know a lot people who play games like farmville but have qualms about playing games like Dragon Age. And to be honest Dragon Age has a lot more Entertainment Quality then FarmVille, at least in my opinion.

I think the problem is that Geek thingy! Many adults think playing games is geek and a waste of time. Its just a mistery for me, games have become so much more entertaining in the last decade, i would go that far to say its more entertaining than movies these days. But it still has that Nerdy or Geeky image.

Whuuu yeah pretty pointless comment but i just want to give my 2 cent to it :P

Trenton Ng
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I don't think your comment is pointless at all. I find that you bring about some interesting topics to talk about that has been addressed by both the gaming community and the industry.

There are more people willing to play Farmville not only for the entertainment aspects but for the accessibility in terms of time. Facebook games are not only free, but playable on any computer that has internet access which allows anyone to log on and play. Also, games such as Mafia Wars and Farmville don't require a player's undivided attention like traditional games do which allows players such as Elementary to High School students to play while doing homework, College students to play during class, and Office workers to get distracted for a minute or two between calls and write-ups. In turn, players feel that they can be productive and still have fun with an on-going world that's happening in their game. It also has that social aspect between actual friends compared to online strangers. There are more friends to play with since the games are accessible to all. At least, this is what I think is happening after having some experience working with a browser-based strategy game.

Games such as Dragon Age 2 or other RPGs that last up to 30+ hours are viewed differently in many different aspects by the non-gamer (or even the non RPG gamer). In order to play the games, the player must go out and buy the console, games and accessories necessary to play them. Then in order to fully enjoy the game, the player must sit and play through a certain duration which may seem like a waste of time when it's unproductive (I personally find playing *certain* games to be very productive). For some people, finding the time to sit down and play videogames can be very difficult because of the crazy schedules we have put ourselves into (even kids under college level are ridiculously busy now with leadership programs, sports, clubs, tutoring, and music lessons) so clicking a few buttons to upgrade that character or harvesting some more crops sound much more reasonable to the busybody. In terms of the social aspect, perhaps a player doesn’t have any other friends that play the same games as them and they’re subject to playing with strangers online. It is a social act, but the circumstances are different (especially non-gamers).

As for the “geek thingy,” we have mainstream media to blame on labeling certain activities as a “geek” thing to do. RPGs have been around for a long time and have been associated with early stereotypes of the small group of basement dwellers who play Dungeons and Dragons and are disconnected from social contact. That stereotype has long been carried through the years into videogaming until casual games started to show that anyone can play games. Now, it seems that “hardcore games” are the ones being labeled the “geek” games with the same stereotype of the player locking themselves inside the room and playing nonstop. It seems like that to the mainstream public because whenever there’s news about videogames, it’s usually someone of that nature that they highlight. And who usually watches the news? Adults! Not that all adults think the same way, we are all different after all.

This is all my opinion, so I’m not saying all the above is how it’s like right now. I’ve played videogames as far back as I remember and still do, but I also recognize the significance in casual games such as the ones on Facebook both in a business standpoint and as an entertainment standpoint. As for the article: I think developers, such as BioWare, want anyone of any experience in gaming to be able to enjoy a game without having prior knowledge of a story and knowing right off the bat what the best builds for a class in an RPG is or having all the combos and button sequences for the ultimate move. So instead of making a game “easier” in difficulty, developers are trying their best to make the game more accessible so that anyone can pick up the controller and learn how to play.

Ack...sorry if it's really long...=(

Christopher Bray
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Agreed. Compared to games like GTA & CoD, many RPGs have poor production value/polish on their core controls and character interactions. That's part of what Bioware is beginning to do so well... delivering on both fronts, instead of just using solid RPG gameplay to carry the weight of otherwise mediocre mechanics.

Keep it coming!

Robert Lee
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Playing the demo, I think the combat in DA2 has improved over the original. Dragon Age was often ponderously slow and frustrating. It's still no Demon's Souls or Rune, but for being a queued combat strategy RPG, I think the interface and combat looks and feels better overall.

Trenton Ng
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The combat mechanics are different in the PC version compared to the PS3 version. I find the difference to be quite interesting, as if they were two completely different games, haha.

If you're talking about the controls for the console version though, I agree that DA2 feels very fluid and easy to pick up. I only played DA1 for 5 minutes and didn't care much about it, but after playing the demo for DA2, I think I want to play both now.

Justin LeGrande
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My opinion on this issue is unabashedly judgmental, but I haven't personally seen evidence of otherwise...

I disagree with the notion of "more people are ready for RPG's than we realize". I think most people across the Earth who do have access to video games do not seek an introspective analysis into their own minds, thus, the majority of video games are "useless" to those people. I doubt that even half of the Earth's current population would even remotely view video games as an integral fact of life.

Mr. Laidlaw says someone can be "ready" to accept a task without awareness... like an inheritance. However, the "high-level" issues of considering game design and play mechanics are beyond the "low-level" issues of conscious recognition and real acceptance of video games as artistic, practical, critical thinking, or existential tools.

What tangible benefit would an electrical engineer garner from playing Dragon Age 2? How does learning to hold and use a game controller improve the life of an overworked and under-appreciated paralegal? Would a college undergraduate, with little free time to spend with friends or family between studies, be able to play a round of Super Mario Bros., then come away feeling like their life's experience had been enriched?

Of course, everyone has to start somewhere. I had to play Super Mario Bros. before I could comprehend playing Final Fantasy. By now, I can possibly draw experiences that I think are tangible, educational, and enriching from entertainment-based video games. Even so... if I were not but a youth when I started, I don't think "drawing an experience" would be so readily interpretable. There's a good reason why many games are created to be "accessible to young'uns", even though most game players (and people in general!) are adults.

I think many game players use games to communicate or procrastinate- they do not honestly feel they must integrate the experience into a slice of life. Which is fine... such an outlook does not identify and propagate easily into RPG's, though.

Tim Tavernier
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I find the notion that Bioware puts forward interesting. One of the reasons why Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and Legend of Zelda (and many others in their wake) were made was actually as a counter-action to the "hard to grasp" western CRPG. They were simplified, but still very challenging RPG's (action-RPG in Zelda's case).

If Bioware is indeed looking in the same direction, I would suggest to them to actually re-examine the first entries of the those 3 series and see what worked then. The challenge is already there, and very liked on my part (I loved the combat system in DA, got so good at it that practically played it like Diablo 2 on Hard. Arcane Warrior FTW!). Now they need to tone-down the dialogs and up the overworld action. Zelda, FF and DQ were great games because it had a very dangerous and active overworld to travel and explore. I missed that in DA.

Ben Rice
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The problem is that an active and dangerous overworld is too often used as a crutch to impede players and extend an otherwise short game.

When done right however, I completely agree.

Guido Franco
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suppose you make a game where the player throws a die trying to get a number, if he gets the number he is allowed to chose which stat to increment.

If you name the first mechanic something like "attack", and you name some of the stats like: strength, mana, etc. your game will be refereed as a (geeky) role playing game. If, on the other hand, you name the first part as negotiation or research and some of the stats as company shares or science points then you've got yourself a strategy and/or simulation game.

so basically the "GENRE" of a game and how the players feel about don't depend on the pure mechanics but whether you have Frodo, Donald Trump or Sgt. Slaughter in it, (and of course also the control mechanics and the player's POV)

That's why I thing WoW evolved so successfully from Warcraft 3, because what the media refers as modern RTS games have actually very little to do with strategy, but in fact they are (frenetic) Action - Role Playing Games

Tore Slinning
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RPG's were spawned out of the early tactical tabletop games(we're not talking about Risk here) what RPG's did was to add another tactical facet of it, the setting.

What RPG's can also be called is an universal strategy game, you should in effect be able to do ingame, whatever that was possible as long it followed limitations put in the characters.

Rebecca Phoa
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I find it interesting that there is this push to put more RPG into non-RPGs. If RPGs are 'scary'; why put in RPG mechanics in your non-RPG? Would it not create complexity if suddenly in an FPS you had to start taking stock of improving your gun ability so that you can use a rocket launcher later in the game?

From what I have read through previews the reasons why they decided to put in a new art style, speed up combat animations, and rework a perfectly good tactical camera for the PC version was that it made the first Dragon Age unpalatable to people who haven't been playing RPGs for 10+ years. But here's the thing; Dragon Age Origins was practically meant for people who have been playing RPGs for 10+ years. It wore this notion like a badge of honour--even the manual said so. Why is Dragon Age Origins being framed as a 'mistake' just because the new version has faster animations? I really don't understand this at all.

Darcy Nelson
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Guido Franco hit the nail on the head: the reason people have problems with RPGs has a lot less to do with the perceived difficulty curve, and more to do with the unspoken rule that RPGs should be implemented in FANTASY settings. (Go ahead, roll out the list of exceptions even as you realize that they are the minority in a majority.)* The fantasy genre equals nerd/geek territory, this is an indisputable fact. Even in today's relatively game-friendly climate, it doesn't take a lot of mental agility to imagine some Call of Duty-playing bullies teasing some pasty, avid Tolkein fan. People are turned off to RPGs by the potential to be identified with the genre. Several of my close friends won't touch your traditional RPG, but they logged unbelievable hours playing through the Mass Effect series. Personally I love the depth and complexity of RPGs (western and eastern) and would greatly enjoy the opportunity to step out of the role of the stereo-typical, sword-swinging (almost invariably MALE) hero for a change.

*Non fantasy RPGs I have played: Armored Core (fits the bill better than any of the older Zelda games IMO), Mass Effect, Starsiege (see Armored Core), Parasite Eve, Front Mission (SRPG), Jedi Outcast, and Fallout. This list reads sci-fi, sci-fi, sci-fi, sci-fi/paranormal, sci-fi, sci-fi and either dieselpunk or sci-fi. Hmm. I guess if RPGs only have two, incredibly nerdy legs to stand on (Sci-fi & Fantasy) developers just may have to accept the fact that their games will be unapproachable to many, or change their product/game world setting.