Sunday, March 29, 2015

Bioware: "Gaming's moved on from Neverwinter Nights, we've moved on from Baldur's Gate."

I read an article interviewing Cameron Lee, producer of Dragon Age: Inquisition.  It's a year old, but it was recently linked in a topic on the Neverwinter Nights 2 forum.  Due to its provocative content, I thought it would be better to comment on it here, rather than on Bioware's own forum.
"Gaming's moved on from Neverwinter Nights, we've moved on from Baldur's Gate."

This quote jumped out at me, even before I saw that the article author pulled it out to highlight it later in the article.  It confirms what they had been avoiding saying for many years, that they've abandoned much of the audience that they attracted with their earlier games.  "Moving on," as if one of the best games they ever made were a bitter, failed marriage, or at best a death of a loved one, much as the article's author opines in the text leading up to the quote.

Showing the quote in a little more context, the most relevant part says:
Inquisition allows me to move into a tactical camera view and control my party from overhead, but BioWare prefers to show the game from its third-person view. [...] But I also suspect that BioWare wants to distance itself from the games of its past--Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights, namely--and be mentioned in the same breath as Elder Scrolls. Lee's words reinforce this notion. "Gaming's moved on from Neverwinter Nights, we've moved on from Baldur's Gate," he says.

I do remember a much earlier interview in Wired magazine that supported the author's suspicion, specifically in regard to Skyrim.  Commenting on the poor reception of Dragon Age 2, Ray Muzyka was speaking of plans for improving what would become Inquisition, saying:
“We’re checking [Skyrim] out aggressively. We like it. We’re big admirers of [Bethesda] and the product,” he said. “We think we can do some wonderful things.”

More like admirers of the product's financial success, I'd wager.  And so Inquisition features a zoomed-in perspective and a seamless open world, both noticeable features of the Elder Scrolls games.  At least they didn't copy the Elder Scrolls' solo, one-man-army gameplay style.  But, then, Bioware's Neverwinter Nights didn't have the controllable party that Baldur's Gate and Dragon Age: Origins had.  Obsidian gave us that proper party system in Neverwinter Nights 2.

Back to the more recent interview, producer Lee continues after mentioning NWN:
"Neverwinter Nights, when you think about that is a transition point from Baldur's Gate, being 3D at that point. So that would have had a similar question, just from the change in perspective, and the change in the pacing. So it's more of an evolution in being immersed in the world, and I think that this kind of freeform movement to the world, giving you a massive place to explore, is just an evolution of the world."

What is he talking about here?  This, combined with the first part above, is the entirety of the quote.  Perhaps it would have helped if the author had mentioned what the "similar question" was referring to, but he didn't mention it because he found the bit about NWN and BG more interesting.  Is he talking solely about graphics or style, and not the game?  That their games have "moved on", first away from 2D, then away from a long-view party-focused gameplay to an Elder Scrolls-style up-close single character gameplay?  If so, it's hardly saying anything.

But, then, he didn't just say that Bioware was moving on.  He claimed that gaming, as a whole, had moved on from Neverwinter Nights, and by extension from Baldur's Gate as well, which lends itself to the way that I and the article author took it: that gaming as a whole has moved on from that sort of game.

I have to say that I disagree with that statement, given the renaissance of RPGs of a class similar to Baldur's Gate starting a few years ago and continuing today, with games like Divinity: Original Sin, Wasteland 2, Shadowrun Returns, Pillars of Eternity, and more still in production, not to mention the successful re-releases of the Baldur's Gate games in "enhanced editions".  To me, it looks more like gaming had a period of famine caused by the big publishers' lack of interest in serving the needs of that customer base, which was finally relieved by crowdfunding and other similar means.

Thanks to this renaissance, it's been a while since I (and others in this particular audience) have had to "settle" for the smaller and smaller scraps the larger publishers deigned to throw us.

I have not yet played Bioware's latest offering because of how much I hated the Dragon Age 2 demo.  From videos and demonstrations of it, though, it looked like it was closer to DA:O than DA2 was.  I was willing to see how it came out.  It seemed that they were no longer quite so confident that it would be more profitable to abandon the fans of the original in pursuit of a newer, presumably larger audience.

However, when one of my relatives happened to get DA:I as a X-mas gift, I watched him play it, and I determined that it still had strayed too far away from the kind of game I want to play.

They had it right before.  They don't now, and that's fine.  Others do.


  1. I did not think much of Dragon Age: Origins, but the sequel was so thoroughly wretched it made the preceding game look positively brilliant by comparison. I made the mistake of purchasing Dragon Age II at full price (plus the Day 1 DLC), and then compounded my error by making my displeasure known on the BioWare forums.

    If you paid attention to what Gaider, Laidlaw, et. al. were saying back then, it was the same attitude that you describe in your post: "RPGs have evolved, games like Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights won't sell any longer, people who disliked Dragon Age II just couldn't accept change" and so on. Rather than admitting that their design decisions alienated more than a few players, they insinuated that there was something "wrong" with us simply because we found the drastic simplification of gameplay to be unacceptable. For that reason, I've added Gaider and Laidlaw to the same list as Bethesda's Todd Howard - if they have a hand in a game's creation, I will not buy it no matter what.

    I have not played Inquisition, nor do I intend to. I've seen no indication that they've learned anything from Dragon Age II, and the game has all the features I despised in that game: the voiced protagonist, the dialogue wheel of I-Don't-Wanna-Read, the frenetic, heavily-actionised combat, the writers' bizarre fascination with trashy romance, and the "Hip! Edgy! Modern!" dialogue.

    1. Oh yes, I was there, and I was paying attention, and yes, I saw that attitude, and I saw it for what it was. That was when I abandoned that section of the forums and decided not to buy or play any further Dragon Age games. I agree with pretty much everything you say here.

      I looked over your linked post, and while in my numerous posts on the subject of Dragon Age: Origins from years past I criticise virtually all of the same things that you pointed out in your own post, I do not see the game on the whole in a negative light, nor would I call it mediocre. I believe this is because your post is rating it based on the originality of its world-building, narrative structure, and thematic elements, I am rating it as a game, where game mechanics and playability are the more important criteria.

      It's the game that introduced me to the concept of an RPG in which you control a whole party of characters, and I found that I liked it. It caused me to seek out and devour the exemplars of the genre. I played Baldur's Gate directly after Dragon Age: Origins, and went on from there to what I consider masterpieces by Troika, Black Isle, and SSI, which further refined my preferences toward turn-based, party-based games with deep and complex dialogue, multiple approaches to quest objectives or character development, and difficult, strategic combat. I will always respect DA:O and be grateful to it for awakening that interest in me.

      It should be clarified, though, that when I said that they had it right before, I was referring to the Baldur's Gate games, not DA:O.