BioWare-Brent Year 10 (Fall 2008 – Summer 2009)

This is the last of ten posts, one for each year that I worked for BioWare.

Talk to me
Spent the early fall participating in several interviews for Dragon Age. Not as much as when I was on Neverwinter Nights though this time around more of these Dragon Age interviews were in person or on the phone (the Neverwinter ones were often e-mail interviews). Doing interviews was certainly not my favorite thing but I believe that they generally went well even given that a couple times the interviewer attempted to ambush me. No hard feelings, that’s their job :)

The most disturbing event that happened during these interviews was when the PR department needed a new photo of me to use for press releases. That involved my being corralled into a bathroom and having one of the PR guys fix my hair for me. Just like my mom used to. It was a bit ick.

Changes
We were nearing the end of active work on design content for Dragon Age… there was still a lot more bug fixing/polishing/ and fill-content generation ahead but the core plot/writing and level design was finished. My work was rapidly shifting into that of reviewing what the team had put together.

Discussion on Dragon Age 2 began around this time and looking ahead I knew that I wasn’t going to be satisfied with what Dragon Age 2 would be. Party control/tactical combat are huge factors in my enjoyment of a role-playing game as is adopting the role of the hero (i.e., customizing my character). I was fairly certain Dragon Age would transition towards more of a Mass Effect experience, which while enjoyable is not the type of role-playing game I play. Could I be the lead designer on such a title? Certainly… though if I were going to work on a game adopting a set-in-stone protagonist I’d rather work on something lighter, like a shooter.

Through a series of circumstances it was decided that with my not wanting to participate on Dragon Age 2 it was time to transition in a new lead to finish the Dragon Age console versions and ramp up for Dragon Age 2. I moved out of an active lead role though I stayed on for several months performing quality assurance and helping with the transition. I completed the game several times during this period and racked up the second or third highest bug totals… so, still busy but doing something quite different.

After this was over and the content locked down I took a sabbatical.

Sabbatical
I wrote a lot during my several weeks of sabbatical time. One of the stories I wrote — “Digital Rights” — went on to win the Writers of the Future contest (though I wouldn’t learn that until late in 2009). While I enjoyed devoting my time to writing and spending more time with my kids I still had the ‘game design’ itch. When I returned to work I was hoping that there would be a new project lined up for me.

There wasn’t, not really. I did some high level design for a potential new project but a few months later I realized that, given cutbacks and other things that it really seemed unlikely that the project I had been ‘assigned’ to was ever going to materialize. I can’t/won’t go into any other details other than to point to an old entry I made about this and reiterate: “I’m not the same person I was when I started, and BioWare isn’t the same company. ”

The End

So I quit, giving a couple months notice to finish up my obligations on the new/hypothetical project and then in early September 2009 I left BioWare. I had a great last lunch with many of the designers I had helped train over the years. I definitely miss all the interaction at the office; there’s nothing like a couple hundred uber creative folk running around to stir the imagination but I am very much enjoying my stress reduced life.

Okay I promise this is my second to last BioWare post… I’ll toss one more up on the anniversary of my departure and then I’m done (though the Lazy Design articles will continue until I’ve fleshed out about three quarters of that book, at which point I’ll start seeking a publisher).


Previous: BioWare-Brent Year 9
Where the story began: BioWare-Brent Year 1


“BioWare-Brent Year 10” copyright 2010 by Brent Knowles

Read some of Brent’s stories, including his award-winning science fiction tale ‘Digital Rights’


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Related Posts

BioWare-Brent Year 7 (Fall 2005 – Summer 2006), BioWare-Brent Year 9 (Fall 2007 – Summer 2008), BioWare-Brent Year 6 (Fall 2004 – Summer 2005), BioWare-Brent Year 5 (Fall 2003 – Summer 2004)

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  • strcpy

    Not sure if this sort of thing would interest you, but someone claiming to be a senior designer at Bioware has made a few posts on Something Awful about Bioware and DA2:

    http://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3393011&userid=0&perpage=40&pagenumber=223#post389494745
    http://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?goto=post&postid=389502404&highlight=#post389502404
    http://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?goto=post&postid=389507292&highlight=#post389507292

    Thanks for all of the cool stuff you contributed to while there; I used to be a huge fan, but DA2 has completely destroyed the credibility Bioware had built up with me over the years (for the record, I loved ME2 and the changes it made; doesn’t mean I want everything to taste the same, though).

    Current score: 0

  • http://blog.brentknowles.com Brent Knowles

    Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words. I hope you give BioWare another chance in the future!!

    I do agree with you about not wanting everything to taste the same! A little gaming diversity is a good thing.

    Take care,

    Brent

    Current score: 0

  • Sophie

    I loved DAO and like that I have an opportunity to directly thank someone responsible for hours of entertainment (I refuse to admit just how many hours are listed on my char play through, as it’s a bit appalling even for me to see how much time I spent as a Grey Warden).

    For me DAO was like a really good book, but one that I was able to tweak the plot lines and ultimate ending of to my satisfaction. And who doesn’t like being being thrown a wicked curveball while trying to plot the perfect story ending.

    DAO was chock-full of these moments and had me gnawing my lip as I went back and forth on pivotal plot points.

    There’s not much for me to say about DAII that hasn’t already been said. For me, it’s eloquently expressed by the time played stats of my single run-through.

    So thanks for helping to give me the best game I’ve played to date and good luck to you and yours.

    -Sophie

    Current score: 0

  • http://blog.brentknowles.com Brent Knowles

    Sophie,

    Thank you for the kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed DAO.

    Take care,

    Brent

    Current score: 0

  • Enchantment?

    Hello Brent,
    I have to say I really enjoyed Dragon Age: Origins, It had that epic feeling where I could change everything around me, everything felt so alive, the cities, the social dynamic and religious beliefs those things really looked like you pulled them out of real life, It was very engaging.

    It’s a shame the people in BioWare treating Origins like it never was, DA2 was a massive FAIL for me, My choices in Origins had no meaning at all.

    I have to ask Brent, Is your time with game industry is over?[I hope not!!!] Will we ever see another game from you?

    Current score: 0

  • http://blog.brentknowles.com Brent Knowles

    Hi… I’m glad you enjoyed Dragon Age: Origins. The team put a lot of years and effort into it!

    As for whether I’ll return to the industry… I really enjoy writing. More importantly I enjoy controlling my own schedule and making my own decisions. I strongly doubt I’ll return to the traditional game industry… I’m enjoying doing consulting for Empire Avenue, the social media exchange, which while a game is not like any I’ve worked on in the past. I’ll probably do consulting for other companies as well.

    But a traditional job at a major developer… pretty unlikely.

    Thanks for stopping by and take care,

    Brent

    Current score: 0

  • Omar Gonzalez Rocha

    Great Work with DAO! Props!

    Sadly Bioware trend of “larger market appeal” is starting to alienate their core fans. Hope they realize they not even winning so much “market appeal” anyway.

    Current score: 0

  • Pantzilla

    That made me laugh for a good five minutes–how depressing.

    Dragon Age definitely gave much more rounded characterizations, like the old RPGs. I found myself kind of stuck in a,”I really want to play something good. Something like PS:T or Baldur’s Gate, etc. Oh, wait, there’s nothing like that anymore.” rut for a while after playing it. I guess this is just a trend I’ll have to accept, fortunately I own many of the classics to satiate me until/if the time comes that some other company makes something amazing.

    Brent, thanks for giving me something to play so I could stop fixating on PS:T for a couple weeks. :)

    Current score: 0

  • http://blog.brentknowles.com Brent Knowles

    Thanks for stopping by and I’m glad you enjoyed Dragon Age.

    Take care,

    Brent

    Current score: 0

  • Ziggy

    I absolutely loved DAO and was extremely disappointed with DA2.

    I do wish you didn’t quit so maybe you could have directed DA3 into something that was similar to DAO.

    Current score: 0

  • http://blog.brentknowles.com Brent Knowles

    Ziggy,

    Thanks for stopping by! Not sure if I had stayed whether it would have made any difference though… BioWare is going where it has intended to go in quite some time.

    Take care,

     Brent

    Current score: 0

  • Orctowngrot

    Though I have enjoyed DAO about 12 times, that is more because it is the only semi-decent RPG out there, than because it is that good. The lack of a real world map, and the linearity of the story arc (you have no point in ever going back to the same place twice), means that it is a good RPG but falls a little short of great. Awakenings had huge potential, and great moments but slip ups like the over complicated character system, and again, the linearity of the whole experience keeps it short of the highest tiers of GOOD.  Yet the thing which endears with both games is how hard the developers TRIED to make a great game. And for this we thank you.  DA2 on the other hand, to my mind is not bad because of market plans and demographic ambitions alone (that too). Its real problems are with Quality control, playtesting, and systematic professional questions. It was rushed in short, and it is loaded with incompetent, shoddy, and half-assed design. It was many thousands of work hours short of a finished game. Where were the playtesters in the studio crying out that the NPCs weren’t very interesting? Where was anyone complaining that ONE map for dungeons ISN’T enough? I guess they decided in the end, that MOST players wouldn’t notice the difference. The bottom line came first. It was less than true passion, and less than a true attempt at making a good game. It was PATRONISING.  I think players who care gave a very articulate response to that attitude with a brilliant revenge of a Metacritic user score of 3.5/10. It may look like 4.2 but that number is seeded with Bioware staff posts of 10. So the company got its money, but those who care about games, those who make them, and those who actually treasure them as players, all know the true score. We know the difference between shit and gold. And its gold we eternally wait and pray for. Thanks for being one who tried to share gold. Definitely get back into  some big projects with big teams if you find a team that you can work with and a project that captures your imagination! The quest for a ‘near perfect’ game is a truly WORTHY human endeavour, and it needs people who care, as you clearly do. 

    Current score: 0

  • http://blog.brentknowles.com Brent Knowles

    Thanks for the comment! Appreciate it. One day maybe I’ll find myself back in the industry but I’m sure enjoying the freedom I have now!

    Take care,
     Brent

    Current score: 0

  • David

    Hey Brent, just wanted to say that i really enjoyed Dragon Age: Origin. It was more or less the best game i’ve ever played.
    Dragon Age 2 was fine, but it doesn’t have Dragon Age: Origin’s pace.
    Thank you for your hard work and i hope that you will make another game that is just as good.
    Good luck in the future.

    Current score: 0

  • http://blog.brentknowles.com Brent Knowles

    David,

    Thank you for the kind words!

    Take care,

     Brent

    Current score: 0

  • Someone

    Hello, Mister Knowles.

    I honestly have to say that I never was a big Dragon Age: Origins fan (guess it’s not my type of game) but having played it, I do respect that you and other people have put a lot of effort into it. Looking at the reviewing scores by the actual gamers on sites like Metacritic, I guess EA had no choice but to admit they made a mistake with the direction they took with the series.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I think Bioware is losing its edge a bit, if I look at ME2′s over streamlining besides DA2′s reception.

    Anyway, good luck in your future endeavours.

    Someone

    Current score: 0

  • http://blog.brentknowles.com Brent Knowles

    Hi. Thank you for the kind words.

    Take care,

     Brent

    Current score: 0

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  • Eddyssonk

    Hi Brent, guess i’m more than 6 months late in stumbling upon your blog and probably be saying the same thing you heard a hundred times about DA2 and DAO. Still, just wanna thank you for DAO and the Baldur’s Gate series (if you’ve worked on them, sorry haven’t read all your posts). Those are masterpieces and i know for sure my time with Morrigan, Minsc, Jaheira, Demogorgon and the darkspawn horde will flashback before my eyes should i ever have a near-death experience.

    It’s a pity you left ‘big’ PC RPG games behind and not considering salaried employment again. But being a freelancer myself, i understand what freedom feels like. So all the best in your novels and other projects.

    PS: I’m super-pissed about DA2 too. It’s a middle-finger to those who loved DAO.

    Current score: 0

  • http://blog.brentknowles.com Brent Knowles

    Hi!

    Thanks for the kind words and yep I worked on Baldur’s Gate 2 (my first game). And yes, being a freelancer definitely fits better with my lifestyle now.  I certainly miss a lot about working with a studio like BioWare but having complete freedom has its perks… primarily that I get to spend time with my children while they are young.

    Take care,

     Brent

    Current score: 0

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Lever/100001103816209 Dan Lever

    Thanks to DA:O, no other RPG can live up to my expectations, I have to keep replaying it (it’s so fantastic!). I just wish that DA2 was half as good (but sadly it wasn’t even close).

    Current score: 0

  • http://blog.brentknowles.com Brent Knowles

    Wow, thanks for the kind words Dan!

    Much appreciated.

    - Brent

    Current score: 0

  • Michael

    I love DA:O,  it gave me a good hardcore RPG to finally play after a while of searching, I haven’t had a chance to play DAII though but from most if not all the comments here i’m guessing I would only play it for a complete story of the DA series, thanks for a great game Brent!

    Current score: 0

  • http://blog.brentknowles.com Brent Knowles

    Hi Michael! Thanks for the kind words.
    Take care,

     Brent

    Current score: 0

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  • Seti

    Perhaps in the past I have been a bit young to have realized or thought about those behind the scenes of games I’ve loved, but I grew up playing BioWare RPGs and I would like to thank you for your part in them including being lead designer in what I consider to be BioWare’s last actual RPG before whatever it is they’re doing now that I, unfortunately, think is taking things too far in the over-the-top rushed action with too much DLC and negative big Business influence direction… Dragon Age: Origins.

    I lament BioWare’s loss of its former identity and the possible fact I may never yet see another great RPG along the lines of Baldur’s Gate I/II, KotOR, or Dragon Age: Origins from them, again, but the former titles they did create in which you have put your fair share of care and work into will continue to live on, at least. You have my thanks for your role in them and I respect your ability to follow your values and walk away from a company that no longer suits you. I wish you luck in whatever endeavors you decide to take on in the future and wish for the best.

    Sincerely,
    Seti

    Current score: 0

  • http://blog.brentknowles.com Brent Knowles

    Thank you very much for the kind words. I’m glad you had such a positive experience with games I worked on.
    - Brent

    Current score: 0

  • Ricardo C.

    I just wanted to wish you all the best and to show my admiration towards your decision to follow your values instead of the values of a company. I must say that i didn’t play Dragon Age yet ( i will though) because i left pc gaming and i didn’t want to play on a console but i did play Neverwinter Nights six or seven times, i loved that game through and through and i want to thank you for that fantastic experience.

    All the best

    Current score: 0

  • Pete

    This post makes me sad to read. I was born in a newer generation than most here so never got the joy of playing Balder’s Gate or Never Winter Nights. What got me into western gaming was Dragon Age Origins. After playing that I realised what I was missing out whilst playing japanese games, before that I didn’t know games could have such level of depth character-wise and role-playing wise and the tactical system… it was like a dream come true combining strategy with RPG.
    So yeah, I consider DA:O to be a true master piece and the best game ever created, after that I went back and started playing KOTOR and that was great too.

    Anyway thank you for helping to create DA:O, it’s sad that Bioware is taking a different direction (Just when I was starting to get into their RPG games too!), hopefully they’ll come around and start making real RPGs again.

    Current score: 0

  • http://blog.brentknowles.com Brent Knowles

    I’m pleased you enjoyed Dragon Age Origins! Hopefully you can find other RPGS  that you can enjoy!

    And you might want to check out http://www.baldursgate.com/ … not sure what’s going on there but I think we might be seeing something Baldur’s Gate’ish down the road.

    Current score: 0

  • http://www.tudosobretibia.com/ Tiago Becerra Paolini

    I was reading one of Baldur’s Gate II custom scripts source and I found your name. I googled it and ended up here.

    I am glad to find online one of the people who worked in this amazing game. The BG series, unlike many current games, manages to be very captivating and creative without needing to have heavy obscenity and swearing.

    Good to see you are happy with your new path!

    Current score: 0

  • http://blog.brentknowles.com Brent Knowles

    Thank you very much for taking the time to come here and comment!

    I’m glad you still enjoy Baldur’s Gate (and by the sounds of it are still scripting for it). I have very fond memories of my time with BG2.

    Take care,

    Brent

    Current score: 0

  • John Smith

    Ugh, this makes me so sick seeing what Bioware use to be like and then what it is now. I’m sorry the game industry’s primary focus isn’t on making quality games. Thanks for all the great games you worked on man.

    - A huge fan that plays Dragon Age: Origins everyday and hasn’t logged a single hour into Dragon Age 2 after playing that horrible demo.

    Current score: 0

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