Making a Classic - An Interview with Dragon Age's Lead Designer Mike Laidlaw

Posted Wed, Sep 09, 2009 by Cody Bye

As a developer, what do you do if you've already created a handful of the most beloved roleplaying games of all time? How can you ever top games that are already considered the best of the best. The folks at BioWare Edmonton had to deal with those questions, and more, when they began work on Dragon Age: Origins. With the release date of Dragon Age quickly approaching, a number of questions still remained in the air for eager fans. Ten Ton Hammer sat down with Lead Designer Mike Laidlaw in Edmonton to try to hammer out some of the lingering questions.

Ten Ton Hammer: The choices that we're making in Dragon Age seem much more... pivotal than what we've seen in Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, and Mass Effect. Was this a decision that was made early on, to have each of these decisions actually influence that outcome of your game? Not only that, but there are also more options available to player than what we've seen previously, as well.

Mike Laidlaw: Yes, we wanted to make sure the game was very reactive to the things you're doing, because it all comes back to this idea of building a "customizable" game. We wanted to make sure that this was a game that really was your experience and something that your origin story really shapes.

The origin stories, especially, are a great area to see these decisions showcased. What you see there is actually a mix of things that are going to carry forward and decisions that only affect your immediate outcome. Not everything carries forward, but a LOT of things do.

That's where we're really forging new ground and being more reactive than we have been in the past. It's a really just a conscious choice to make sure that there's a number of things you can choose and do so when we introduce particular characters or go back to a player's origin city, people are going to remember how you behaved and reacted.

To me as a player, that's incredibly gratifying.

Ten Ton Hammer: How does it really play out in the game? Are players going to be traveling back to their origin city very often?

Laidlaw: Every origin story has at least one element that is a direct call back to their specific city/area. There are other lingering effects that go on throughout the game, like if you choose the mage origin, people will react to the fact that you're a mage. They're going to be intimidated by you simply because you are a mage. I mean, mages are scary in our world.

If you're a dwarf, your existence on the surface will make people wonder what you're doing above ground. Elves will be treated like second class citizens. All of those things will carry forward. Even male and female characters elicit different reactions. Different people will flirt with you, and the Grey Wardens will react to you differently. Some even might try to take advantage of you.

You may think they're simple, basic choices at the beginning, but they really, really matter. They all matter, and that's what people are excited about.

Ten Ton Hammer: So even from the basic character creation selection, players are making decisions that will affect how their characters are going to be seen in the world. Are the classes thrown into that mix as well? Do warriors and rogues have different stories?

Laidlaw: Warrior and rogue classes have the same origins, but the way they're played out may be entirely different. The tactical standpoint is certainly much different. If a warrior moves behind a guy, he gets a slight bonus to hit, but if a rogue moves behind someone, they start getting bonus damage based on cunning and the animation even changes.

The progression trees are also different. For example, rogues are the only class that can pick locks. If you play a rogue in the early game, you're like "open chest, open chest, open chest." You're opening all kinds of stuff and getting loot and money. If you're a warrior, you're staring at the chests glowering because you can't open them. But once you get a rogue in your party, you can start popping chests open.

That's a new and different choice for characters. If you're playing a rogue, you should be rewarded for that choice.


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