He’s got a name that less sensitive types could make terrible puns out of, but you won’t catch us attempting such a thing when in the presence of Ray Muzyka. We strapped him to a table, injected him with truth serum and got him to divulge as many of the game’s mucky secrets, including why having three wizards in your party is a really good idea and why Fox News doesn’t know what it’s doing when it comes to reporting on games.
Above: Dr. Ray of BioWare
It was a pretty long project. We started as a PC lead, but we always had a hope of bringing it to consoles as well, which became a concerted effort later on. I think we talked at one point about doing a Human Commoner origin story, which wasn’t in the shipped game, but it wasn’t as aspirational or interesting. But you know, dwarf noble, dwarf commoner, those were exotic. The Dalish and the city elf were intriguing too, plus the mage and the human noble, which were the six we shipped with. We wanted to make sure you took on a role that was aspirational and exciting, ultimately something that players would want to get behind. If we think of anything else though, we’ll put it in the next release.
One time I had three mages in my party. I had Wynne, Morrigan and my main character was a mage too, with Leliana in front, a dual-wielding, back-stabbing thief who could open chests, of course. I had all three mages progressed along the spell chain to get Animate Dead, so I actually ended up with seven characters in the party, including the corpses. If Leliana was a ranger, she could have summoned a pet and I’d have had eight. Anyway, it worked really well with seven.
Did you know that when you cast Animate Dead on a corpse, the thing that gets animated varies according to what they were before? So, if you had a Hurloc Emissary, you’d get a mage, or if you cast it on a ranged guy, like an archer, you’d get them in your party. So you can actually have six mages in your party, which I did a few times, which was really cool.
Plumbing the depths
There’s a lot of depth to the game if you poke around in it, a lot of interesting nooks and crannies. If you’ve already progressed a lot with your characters, you might be able to unlock some new abilities later on when Awakening raises the level cap. We wanted to have summonable characters to raise the group size above four, but as for a greater base group size, we looked at it and thought from a performance and playability benefit balance, four was the best number.
We considered six and we did some prototyping around three, four and six and decided four was a nice middle ground, so we chose that. We felt there was a nice tactical depth there, so you could have a couple of fighters, a mage and a thief, or a couple of thieves, a fighter and a mage or three mages and a thief, which is what I did. It gave it enough tactical depth and diversity. I think that’s really cool, as you get the water cooler moment where you go “Well, my party was composed of this,” and your friends would go, “Oh, I didn’t even think of that”.
I gotta tell you, fighting a dragon is one of the coolest moments in the game, very epic. They’re freaking huge and on the PC, I remember I was fighting some dragons and I was so excited, taking all these screenshots of Sten rushing up to the dragon with his flaming sword, and the dragon rearing over his head.
Wynne was at the back basically trying to heal and animate them back to life whenever they dropped. I took all these screenshots and sent them over to Frank, my boss, and John, my boss’s boss, and I was like “Look at this, this is freaking awesome, I’m fighting dragons”. Epic stuff, I was really excited by it.
Dungeons & Dragons and Tolkien, they’re high fantasy: it’s all good and evil, one or the other. There’s elves and they’re good, but we wanted elves that were downtrodden, a grittier, more mature take on fantasy. Not like a dark or low fantasy, but somewhere in the middle, taking the best features of high and low fantasy, which we call dark heroic fantasy.
We feel it was a fresh take on things. It looks familiar on the surface, but when you dive into it you realise there are a lot of things going on that aren’t necessarily obvious. I think The Witcher was more an example of low fantasy. It’s on the other end of the spectrum to the high fantasy. It’s good, there’s a lot of different types of fantasy you can create. I like the middle, where there’s a dark, mature world where your choices have consequences, but you can still be a hero.