Life is full of choices. Any time we flip on the television or cook
dinner, we’re making a decision. What are we going to watch?
Will it be steak for dinner? Or pizza? Should I buy the PS3 or the Xbox
We answer most of these questions in spontaneous choices that often
occur without much conscious thought, and yet many of our
life’s choices can alter our lives. Even something as simple
as watching TV might influence your future: Perhaps you’re so
intrigued by the latest iteration of Shark Week on the Discovery
Channel that you opt to go back to school to become a marine
biologist. These consequences occur on a near daily basis,
and everyone around you is tempered by your reputation earned through
your previous encounters and decisions.
But what if you could see what it could have been like? What if you
could replay your life, making different decisions along the way?
Perhaps if you’d been friends with different people in high
school, you could’ve been a straight "A" student? Or maybe
decision to get married early in life led to a very profitable
lifestyle, yet kept you from your dream of sailing around the world?
These are the sort of dilemmas that BioWare is hoping to give gamers in
their upcoming roleplaying game, Dragon
. While at GamesCom
2009, the Edmonton-based studio transported audiences of journalists to
the world of Ferelden – a dark, gritty world seeping with
cankerous outbreaks of a pestilence called “The
Blight.” It’s here that the gamer is placed, and
the character that you control exists as one of the lone saviors left
in a world almost without hope. Dispecable agents from all over
trying to take advantage of the coming storm, and betrayals are
happening faster than you can blink. The demo began with a video
covering the basics of the world of Dragon Age, and two of Dragon
Age’s top developers lead the GamesCom 2009 adventures,
Lead Designer Mark Laidlaw and Global Product Manager David Silverman.
Both of these men are avid gamers – just like you and me
– and they wanted to ensure that players understand the sort
gravity that the gameplay within Dragon Age holds for potential fans.
“There’s hundreds of choices to make in Dragon
Age,” Silverman stated. “The cool thing about this
game is that every decision you make in the game has a rippling
consequence that will come back to haunt or help you.”
Now most people have seen choices in video games before, and they're
all over in
BioWare games. For roleplaying gamers especially, the notion of choice
isn’t anything new by any stretch of the imagination.
Even MMOs like Age
have used choice
and storytelling as one of their selling points. But the Dragon Age
developers are looking to do something more with their iteration on the
mechanics of decision making.
“What you’re going to see if the 2.0 version of
choice,” Silverman continued. “It’s
[asking the gamer] what they would do if their morality was brought
question. What do you do when there isn’t a clear good or bad
choice? When it’s not just a question of kicking kittens or
“Even in the origin stories,” Laidlaw explained,
“you’ll find these sort of decisions to make. There
may be a lean to them one way or the other, but you can certainly
justify the things that you do.”
For the demonstration, Laidlaw and
Silverman dropped the audience into
one of those moral choices that will affect the rest of the game for
the player. And, as Laidlaw explained, the choice was far from clear
“That’s one of the great things about Dragon
Age,” Laidlaw continued. “There’s a gray
morality to it. There’s no good or evil slider.
There’s no nemesis twirling his moustache [to declare that
The scenario that the developers dropped us into is about 10-15 hours
into the game according to Laidlaw and Silverman, depending upon how
the gamers push through the content. The audience found itself facing
the hero’s party, which included Morrigan, Wynne, and
Leliana. The hero was obviously a warrior of some sort, draped as he
was with a thick suit of plate mail and wielding a massive sword.
Again, the developers explained that the group was inside of an
important religious temple and was about to discover an incredibly
important religious artifact known as the Urn of Sacred Ashes, an item
thought to have been lost by the religious order known as the Chantry
of Andraste. The party had been sent to this location in order to heal
an important ally, Arl Eamon, and thus use his armies in the fight
against the Blight.
After making it through a rabid cult and a series of tests known as The
Gauntlet, the character stands in front of the Urn of Sacred Ashes and
that’s where the player’s choice suddenly jumps to
the forefront in a bold and stunning way. As the character stands over
the urn, both Wynne and Leliana proclaim their awe at being in the
presence of such a mighty item. On the other hand, Morrigan issues a
snide comment, clearly not impressed with such religious idols.
“This is really like finding the Holy Grail of Dragon
Age,” Silverman states. “[To Wynne and Leliana]
this is the discovery of a lifetime. They thought it was lost
In this particular version of events, Silverman had our character take
a pinch of the ashes to hopefully heal Arl Eamon, but this leads him to
the moral dilemma surrounding what then to do with the Urn of Sacred
Ashes. Silverman presented one particular argument –
don’t worry you’ll hear about another version from
Laidlaw – but it’s important to note that
everything from party composition to character’s relationship
with the main character will influence how these sort of events play
“So what do we do with the ashes?” Silverman asked.
“This is an incredibly powerful artifact. Not only does it
have significant religious benefits and effects, but it also has
practical magical purposes as well. These ashes can cure anything and
essentially grant you everlasting life. The Urn can make you
Silverman went on to explain that the Blight is on the move and
they’re amassing to destroy every living thing on Ferelden.
What happens if they got ahold of the sacred urn and the ashes within
it? You’d never be able to defeat the Blight, even with an
army of a half dozen nations. “That’s a high price
to pay to keep an object sitting around in a nice temple,”
Silverman said. “And what if man gets corrupted? You all saw
what happened in Lord of the Rings. Here’s a whole urn full
of sacred ashes where one flake of this stuff can cure a king where
none of the most powerful mages from across the land can do