Dragon Age II's David Gaider Reveals Stance on In-Game Romances
Dragon Age II Lead Writer David Gaider has a lot to say about character development, in-game romances, and even stories for Dragon Age III. Read on to find out more in part one of our conversation.
GameZone: In the presentation earlier, they said Dragon Age is a sliver and Dragon Age II takes that sliver and expands on it. How do you go about intermixing with what we already know while bringing on what's new? All the audience may know, from what I see, this is going on at the same time as Dragon Age [Origins] is going on.
David Gaider: Well, it starts at the same time and sort of jumps ahead and progresses. Basically, Origins needed to introduce the world so there was a lot of introduction required. Here, we proceed with the assumption that you have a pretty good idea - there are still the Codexes and information if you want to look for that - but otherwise we try to introduce things in context rather than spend a lot of time explaining what this new world is. Then it's a matter of establishing an overall timeline big enough to say, “This is where Origins takes place. This is the part where Dragon Age II overlaps,” and keeping our timeline straight because we are interested in telling the story arc of the world, how this is a period of history in Dragon Age and what's happening. We need to figure out what tale we need to tell to the world, then figure out how we're telling that through the eyes of the various heroes.
GZ: How did you go about selecting which characters would show up periodically in Dragon Age II? Was that more of a fan reaction?
DG: I think it's a little bit of both. There are some characters that we like, and that we have decided we'd like to see again. Then, sometimes, if a character is popular we might think maybe we can fit them in. As we're sitting down, we have a number of writers that work together and some - like Mike Laidlaw - will sit down with us and will come up with an idea or a story that will be both in terms of what the game needs to be as well as what we want to do for the property as a whole. We bounce it around and think of ideas. What a fan favorite could inspire us to think, "What if we did this, everyone gets excited about it and suddenly that character becomes much bigger than we intended?" Then, back when we first started deciding that this is what story the world was going to tell, there are certain characters that play a significant role.
GZ: Last year when I was here for Dragon Age: Origins, nobody knew that Dragon Age II was in production. Do you already have stories, ideas in your head for Dragon Age III? Knowing that Dragon Age II is going to be done within the next 3-6 months?
DG: We always knew what story Dragon Age II could be. When you're working on a story you certainly want to think, "If we continued this, is it where we'd like it to go?" just so that you can head in that direction when you're plotting out the story. If you know that you're going to have a character appear in the next one, you can have them pop up in the current game. We have to figure out what that is so it can inform the current game as well as figure out what from the current game we can move forward.
GZ: As a writer, how do you feel about the transition from the 'silent hero' to now a 'speaking hero?' Does it help you a lot with the storytelling?
DG: I don't know about help me out. It's different. I think there are tradeoffs either way. As soon as you give a voice to the player, you're defining the protagonist a little more. Not that this is as defined as something like The Witcher is with Geralt is as a defined character. The more you define your character, the more tools you give a writer to tell the story. Whenever you have a completely ambiguous main character, you have to have the story be about other characters. The more defined that main character is, the more the story can be about the protagonist. Those definitions are things you can hook a plot to. If you have plots like, say, Neverwinter Nights is an example, you have a character. There could have been anyone from any race, any class, any background - it wasn't defined at all. Therefore, they were an unknown that was taking in the plot that was occurring around them. That's what you need to do. That's one thing where the voice actually helps. It helps us supply an identity to Hawke, and when we're writing the different personalities that you would have seen already as you were playing. We are supplying a voice, but the version of Dragon Age we wanted to do was give the player the option of personalities to craft for themselves. It's not just a single voice; we're not supplying a personality for the character, just a voice. It’s a little bit more defined.
It was a struggle at first to get used to. I find now when I go back to play Origins, I really miss it. The very first time I did that I was actually very surprised. It's weird how it felt like now that I'm playing Origins there are these gaps in the conversation. I'm missing not just the voice, but the animation. In Origins, if you didn't have a voice, you couldn't have the player doing animations when they're not speaking. Normally, if you click on something you don't really see the player at all. Whereas giving the player a voice gives us the opportunity to have them act so you see your character moving and taking part in the conversation as opposed to just being that silent bystander, which it sometimes really feels like.
GZ: What have you learned from the feedback on the romances from the first game that you've now taken to the second game?
DG: I don't know, but there’s a lot of feedback for us. I've done a number of our romances, going back to Baldur’s Gate II. I always like to try something new. Origins was really quite in depth with the characters and the romances in particular. From what we get from the fans, there were a lot of people that the romances were more important to them than the story, which is great. It's very gratifying to hear that. There's only so much we can do, but I think trying out some different things like DAII takes place over a large span of time, and I always found that the romances can be a bit strange and that they don't grow organically. It's sort of a situation where you're in this life-or-death adventure, you're comrades that have been thrown together and passion springs out of that. It was nice to get the opportunity to have a romance that took place over years as opposed to a month at best. That was interesting to try, until I learned.
GZ: Do you expect the reactions to be the same for Dragon Age II?
DG: No, like I said, we are trying different romances. Alistair, for instance. He was a bit of a 'woo-bie.' A very cute romance, and a lot of people loved him a lot, which was great. But I wouldn't want to have an Alistair-like character in a romance, because we've already done that. We could do something similar, or maybe revisit that in the future. However, the idea is about finding that happy medium between fans, especially ones who are the biggest fans of DA:O. They have that conflicting desire, which is they want everything to stay exactly the same, nothing change, but they want it to be new. You've got to find a line to walk in between there, and no matter which way you go they're probably going to react negatively. However, you've got to sort of forge your path.
Check back tomorrow for part two of our discussion with David Gaider on topics such as: The Game of Thrones, The Legend of the Seeker and a Dragon Age television adaptation.