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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  • Cori

    I am kind of glad to hear that your leaving the Dragon Age lead was less traumatic for you than it was for me. That was a really terrible day all over the place.

    Current score: 1

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

    Time has a way of mellowing things out but it was still… difficult at the time

    Wished the whole situation had been handled a bit more gracefully but alas…

    Current score: 0

  • Mark

    Thanks Brent. I really enjoyed this whole series. I tried going to back through the previous years to get to part 3 and before but the links no longer seem to work.

    Current score: 0

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

    Mark – thanks for pointing the error out. I think I’ve fixed the page links… when I get a chance (won’t be for a bit) I’ll make a table of contents page for those too.

    Current score: 0

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  • RJ

    brent kudos for sticking with your design philosophy, i really loved dragon age origins and after playing dragon age 2 demo i was assured i wont be buying it. they’re making it into Dragon Effect 2 than staying true to the original. you will be missed. good luck on your future projects

    Current score: 0

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

    RJ

    Hi… thanks for the comment. I’m seeing a lot of mixed opinions on the demo and will have to check it out.

    One day I might get back into game design again full-time (only really doing a bit of consulting right now) but mostly I’m focused on writing fiction.

    Take care and thanks again for stopping by,

    - Brent

    Current score: 0

  • William

    I’d like to say ditto to what RJ said. After reading all the comments about the changes to DA2 (big fan of DA:O) and then playing the demo, I too won’t be buying it. It’s terrible as to how things turned out Brent, but you stuck to your guns and I respect that. Hopefully, soon or in the future, you will get back in the saddle and create a true RPG once again. Thanks for your work in the past; BG2 is still my all time fav RPG.

    Current score: 0

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

    Hi William! Thanks for the kind words.

    I still haven’t looked at the Dragon Age 2 demo but will soon.

    I’m glad you liked BG2 and hope you find something new you enjoy playing!

    Take care,

    – Brent

    Current score: 0

  • Anonymous

    Hey,
    After the – imo -disappointing DA2 demo I was browsing the forums a bit and stumbled upon this.
    Just wanted to say that DAO – and the other games you where involved with – was brilliant (despite it’s flaws) and refreshing to see that some still wanted to make deep, oldschool rpg’s (or at least something that went into that direction). A good RPG has a world which is like a warm blanket on a cold winters day, you just don’t want to let it go. As such, I finished it 3 times in a row.

    Sorry to say that DA2 will be the first bioware game ever that I won’t buy (ME2 steered in the wrong direction and the DA2 demo just wasn’t my cup of tea). Saddens me a bit considering (the old) bioware was one of the companies that inspired me a couple of years ago to set up my own indy developer (we hope to release our first game this year).

    I hope that you will continue to make games!

    Current score: 0

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

    That’s too bad that the DA2 demo doesn’t resonate with you but thank you for the kind words about my past projects. And I know what you mean about DA:O I think I was the first person to finish a full playthru of it during testing and I played through at least a half dozen times.

    Good luck with developing your first game! Let me know how it goes.

    Take care,

    Brent

    Current score: 0

  • http://www.facebook.com/raphaeljoshua.salonga Raphael Joshua Salonga

    thanks for the good times you game us rpg gamers brent. BG2 is at the apex of rpg ladder because of you. i enjoyed DAO and you leaving will be a big blow for bioware.
    maybe you could consult to CD Projekt =)
    they’re shaping The Witcher 2 to be a true to form CRPG

    Current score: 0

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

    Hi Raphael!

    Glad you enjoyed some of the games I’ve worked on in the past. I enjoyed the Witcher and will definitely check out Witcher 2 but I think I’m done with working on ‘big’ games… its kind of fun just to sit around the house and write novels!

    Take care,

    Brent

    Current score: 0

  • Dave

    Hi Brett, big fan of the games you worked on. Just wondering if you played the Dragon Age 2 demo and what are you thoughts on it? Cheers Dave.

    Current score: 0

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

    Hi Dave. Sorry but I haven’t played it yet. When I do I’ll post a quick blog post about it!

    Thanks for stopping by.

    - Brent

    Current score: 0

  • Mohammed

    Hey Brent. Thanks for sharing this. Count me in the camp who loves Baldur’s Gate 2 and its ilk. It’s disheartening what they’ve done here, and even moreso that some of the fans who are accepting of the changes are calling us butthurt, whether they came late to the party (most got on board with either Mass Effect or Knights of the Old Republic, so they don’t know what the original DA was supposed to represent) or they consider it a load of “dice rolling crap”. I’ve had to fight the urge to troll them back really hard.

    Aside from that, if the Baldur’s Gate saga were to be remade, how do you think would be the best way to do it? 3.5? 4.0? Or is it perfect as is? The 2nd ed rules are a bit of a barrier.

    Current score: 0

  • Mohammed

    I forgot to mention that one thing of note from the DA2 demo is that backstabbing is now linked to just pushing a button, rather than sneaking up on the enemy before attacking via positioning/distraction/etc.

    Current score: 0

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

    Hi!

    A remake would definitely need to use more updated rules and I’m pretty sure Hasbro or whomever owns the right for D&D nowadays would insist on whatever the current version of the game system is.

    Take care,

    Brent

    Current score: 0

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

    Yeah that doesn’t surprise me. We had to fight pretty hard to make backstab positional.

    Current score: 0

  • Davehanning80

    Hi Brett, your former colleague, Mike Laidlaw commented that you left before Bioware started any solid plans on Dragon Age II. Is there any truth to that? Here’s the link where he commented on the Bioware forum: http://social.bioware.com/forum/1/topic/141/index/4982457/1

    Since Witcher 2 won’t be out for months, for those who miss the old school RPGs, try Drakensang. You played that game, Brett?

    Current score: 0

  • Ronald Lau

    Hi Brent! I was looking around at user reviews of Dragon Age 2 and was also in the process of making my own when I stumbled across a comment and link regarding your departure from Bioware. I would very much like to thank you for your years of work at Bioware participating in the creation of works of art such as KOTOR which I really loved, it’s sequel (though it was done by Obsidian, without Bioware’s KOTOR, would never have happened) and Dragon Age: Origins of course. In fact KOTOR was what got me into playing RPGs in the first place which later lead me to enjoy other RPG’s such as Oblivion and Fallout 3. I would sincerely love to hear your opinion on Dragon Age 2 when and if you have the time to play and write a review for it as you probably have other more important commitments to attend to eg. your kids and life in general :P

    Personally I enjoyed the traditional RPG experience embodied by Dragon Age: Origins far better than the shooter’ized Dragon Age 2 (aka Dragon Effect: Consolization 101). Now this might not have been a problem except for the fact that I preordered the 2nd game with expectations that were falsely cemented by twisted PR.

    Current score: 0

  • Philbo1965uk

    Hi Brent,

    I am happy that you left TBH. I’ve admired your work immensely and my gaming has been enriched as a result.I wouldn’t want the respect I have for you dampened so selfishly I find your leaving gratifying ( is that bad?).

    It isn’t worth alot to you personally as you do not know us…but you were and are greatly appreciated.

    I think as you read these comments from your fans you should maybe listen to the Gladiator theme for immersive qualities.

    Good luck for the future

    kind regards Phil Kitching UK. (PC gamer )

    Current score: 0

  • Dave

    Oops, meant to type Brent not Brett. Sorry, I got a brother named Brett.

    Current score: 0

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

    Thanks Phil!

    Current score: 0

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

    Hi Ronald… glad you enjoyed Dragon Age!

    I too wish PR could be more up front with titles though I understand why they are not! I’m pretty much a demo gamer now… I have to be very happy with the demo or else I won’t even consider buying it.

    Current score: 1

  • Ab

    I guess you have a 1 year no-compete clause ? Anyways I hope you end up at one of the smaller more creative developers/publishers. They seem to do a lot of interesting works these days (I’d name a few but that leads things open to debate).
    -
    Not sure I love the emphasis on DLC these days (actually I kind of have a rabid dislike for them); not sure if that is a bioware or EA thing. To be honest I didn’t much like the combat in DAO; somehow it didn’t feel very tactical; but the story telling was great (imho) (story telling is not the same as story; I guess many would call it presentation). Hum. To be honest I don’t know you or your specific work at all. I mean I’m an oldie and been playing games forever and I in my early days I did quite a bit of work on diku muds which predate the graphical evolution of games; well not really predate but ran sort of tangient; but predated the graphical MMO… to be more accurate.

    Oh well will be nice to see what the future holds.

    Current score: 0

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

    No worries the Brett/Brent thing happens all the time.

    As for Mike’s comment… he’s speaking the truth. No solid plans had started on Dragon Age 2 though there had been plenty of discussion between the then-DA:O leads on where the franchise would head.

    Given the push towards a more Mass Effect style of game during DA:O development though it was inevitable that the sequel would have even more of a push in that direction. As well when we were prototyping console game play for DA:O there was a push towards introducing more of an action element that was postponed for the sequel.

    - Brent

    Current score: 0

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

    Thanks Ab for stopping by!

    I had a 1 year no-compete clause but that expired some time ago. I’m doing a bit of consulting now (www.empireavenue.com/writer) but primarily I’m writing stories/novels/screenplays and the like.

    The game industry was awesome but I don’t think I’ll ever be a salaried employee again.

    - Brent

    Current score: 0

  • http://twitter.com/DoktorKisses DoktorKisses

    You had to fight to make backstabbing…positional? I would’ve thought that would be pretty clearly implied byt the name. You stab. From the back.

    Man, the less you know what goes into the sausage, the happier you are.

    Current score: 0

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  • http://www.facebook.com/noman.ansari Noman Ansari

    Hello!

    I enjoyed DA1 immensely, being a huge BG2 fan. Good luck! It is a pity that DA2 has taken the direction it has. :(

    Current score: 0

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

    Hi Noman, thanks for stopping by!

    Glad you enjoyed DA1 and BG2!

    Take care,

    Brent

    Current score: 0

  • Karry

    Hmmm…well, i dont know what to think.
    I refer to this line specifically “Party control/tactical combat are huge factors in my enjoyment of a role-playing game “. Yes, and thats why you made NWN, a glorified constructor set which Bioware lied and sold as a game, with a single character and consequently – barely any tactical choises available.

    PS. And MY GOD, there are a lot of various Knowles in game development ! Surprising.

    Current score: 0

  • mell’on

    Well DA2 is out. I’ve played the demo and as I feared I have no desire to purchase the game.
    It’s not that it’s a bad game, it’s just that it isn’t a DRAGON AGE game ( ie the progeny of a distinguished line of descendants that began with a twenty sided die and sadly ended with DA1). Is it too much to ask that BIOWARE, of all companies, can’t look after the old school “nerds” (the likes of which founded and BUILT the damn company) with a series of determinedly old school games (even if , heaven forbid, they perform modestly in the marketplace)??

    We don’t care if they want to make action games for consoles – just start a new IP!

    Besides, I thought DA1 did pretty well $$$ wise. Why alienate devoted fans when you don’t have to??

    I got more enjoyment out of the $3.99 iPhone game “Battleheart” than I did out of the demo of a big budget sequel to a game that I loved.

    Thanks for your work on DA1 Brent, and all the best for your future!

    Current score: 0

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

    Hello and thank you!

    I’m glad you enjoyed DA1 and I appreciate your stopping by to say so. (And I’ve been considering downloading Battleheart… maybe with your recommendation I’ll check it out now)

    Take care,
    Brent

    Current score: 0

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

    Yeah I was kind of surprised at BioWare when a second Knowles joined the company. Only time in my life where I ran across another.

    re: your statement about party control.

    You are absolutely correct about Neverwinter. The lack of party control in that title really influenced how I felt later on. I came on late to Neverwinter and was mostly on the tech side of things but with the follow up expansion packs I think we did a reasonable job of bringing more party control systems into place (especially Hordes) — as much as we could with a limited team and budget.

    And we did this because the fans *were* disappointed with their lack in the original. And vocally disappointed…

    Take care,

    - Brent

    Current score: 0

  • A German Bioware fanboy (yet)

    Bioware changes, and so does the gaming market.
    Unfortunately, i don’t like most of the changes.

    After playing the demo and reading some previews and reviews of DA2, i was very disappointed; it’s the first game of Bioware i won’t buy on day 1.

    Thank you for a lot of wonderful hours i had with BG2 and also NWN and DAO.

    Good luck with your future projects.

    Current score: 0

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

    Thanks for the kind words and I’m sorry you were disappointed with DA2.

    All the best,
    Brent

    Current score: 0

  • Alex

    Hey Brent,
    looks like you’ve made a right decision:
    http://www.metacritic.com/game/pc/dragon-age-ii
    check out the user score ;)

    Also did you read the escapistmagazine.com review of DA2?
    “Bottom Line: A pinnacle of role-playing games with well-designed mechanics and excellent story-telling, Dragon Age II is what videogames are meant to be. 5/5 Stars”
    The poor guy has either never played a good RPG game, or EA spends all it’s dough on buying positive reviews instead of on the actual game-making.
    It’s a shame what became of Bioware…

    I’m 31 and I hardly have any decent RPGs to play now. Games, kind of instead of maturing with you are getting dumber and dumber with every year or sequel…
    Crap, i would kill (please don’t call the FBI, its just a saying) for another Planetscape:Torment, Fallout2 or Baldurs Gate2….

    oopsy, sorry for all the ranting, take care.

    Current score: 0

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

    Hi Alex, thanks for the comments and the link. Interesting stuff.

    Take care,
    Brent

    Current score: 0

  • Red RavN

    Brent thanks for the story and for making DA1. Based on my experience with DA2 so far, it was probably a wise decision to back out of that project. Its unfortunate that Bioware is clearly not the same company in spirit as it once was.

    I hope you find a way to get back into game design whether big budget or small team. I would definately play them and I think a lot of other people would too! Take care.

    Current score: 0

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

    Thanks Red RavN.

    Take care,

    Brent

    Current score: 0

  • Anonymous

    Simply put, Dragon Age: Origins was truly a love letter to old school RPG fans. In an age where choices are clear cut “yes or no”, Origins provided us with a refreshing taste of “whatever you feel is right”.

    While Mass Effect’s transition into an action game sat perfectly well with me, given the game’s shooter roots, I wasn’t so happy about the transition that was made with Dragon Age 2. We have way too many hack and slash action games out there (ie Fable) to justify some of the cuts that went into it, and the game feels like it was contracted out to a completely different development team that had never even seen Origins.

    I think the biggest travesty was the lack of lasting impact you had on the world. In Origins, there were tons of different endings detailing pretty much every person you affected. In DA2, you can only earn one of two different endings that are about 2 minutes long in total, and are extremely similar to one another. It really isn’t an RPG.

    Given your history, I think you’ll enjoy the following image – keep fighting the good fight, and thanks for Origins.

    http://i.imgur.com/Ap7HR.jpg

    -Chris/Magnalon

    Current score: 0

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

    Magnalon,

    Yes that image says a lot, doesn’t it? Thanks for your comments, I agree with you in that I think a large part of some user’s frustration is the change of scope from DA1 to DA2. Its nice to have variety in the kinds of games played.

    Take care,

    Brent

    Current score: 0

  • Dave

    Hi Brent,

    Played dozens of hours on Dragon Age II and it’s… different. Not liking trudging through very linear and recycled environments, having my view obscure when casting AOE spells because tactical view was removed and how waves of enemies constantly appears out of nowhere, especially behind my mage and rogue. It happens like 90% of the time after defeating the first wave of baddies.

    Mike Laidlaw said in an interview in Eurogamer (http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2011-03-11-dragon-age-3-there-are-always-ideas) that they are thinking of implementing multiplayer into the Dragon Age series as well as Mass Effect series. When you were working at Bioware, was there any talk of multiplayer in those series at some point in the future? Do you favor adding multiplayer for those games?

    If there were to add multiplayer that it’s more like what Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights had, not like multiplayer like we have now like with shooters or with the Fable series.

    Current score: 0

  • Dave

    LOL @ picture. The dialogue wheel needs another option: “Button=Awesome!” I have seen this before and it never fails to make me laugh. At the same time, I cry a little inside when I do see it, as they don’t make RPGs like they used to.

    Current score: 0

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Jeans/100000051694030 James Jeans

    I really enjoyed Dragon Age Origins, but good lord, it’s one of the buggiest games I’ve ever played for the PS3. The Awakening expansion even more so. I think it’s a shame you weren’t involved in Dragon Age 2 — a game I’m enjoying every bit as much as Origins, if I’m honest — but thank you for the hard work you did on the first game. In spite of the glitches and the bugs, it’s a wonderful game.

    Current score: 0

  • http://hydroxide.myopenid.com/ Hydroxide

    I actually think it’s short-sighted not to be more up-front. Especially with game prices today being what they are, not being up front and having people buy a game they don’t enjoy is not going to encourage follow-up purchases. Basically, they’re trying to do seller’s market style marketing in a buyer’s market. Problem is, few people are going to notice because a lot of companies have slept through the last couple of decades… but with more and more studios coming onto the market with games, competition for the buyers’ money will get more fierce, and I don’t think acting in a style that is perceived as being ripped off is going to win that competition.

    Frankly, as someone who has played CRPGs since the dawn of time, I get a sinking feeling that what happens to Bioware is similar to what happened to Origin Systems way back when. The games get rushed, the gameplay drastically changed to the point where eye candy tries to cover a lack of substance.

    One counterpoint, though: I believe that a game with a predesigned hero CAN be a stellar example of old-school RPG. I’m not going to point at Ultima here because those were very different times. But if you look at Planescape:Torment, it dropped you into a premade character with a premade backstory, and a great part of the game was actually about finding out that backstory. BUT it still allowed you a lot of freedom as to where you took the character from there. You were not locked into a specific style of play from the get-go, you were not locked into a specific outlook at the world. Add to that a very out-of-the-ordinary environment, and rich characters not from the usual mass market mold and I found it a game that could really capture me and not let go. In fact, not being a friend of D&D, I’d never have bought BG1 OR 2 if I hadn’t played P:T before because the premise intrigued me and had been absolutely enthralled by it.

    Current score: 0

  • http://twitter.com/MrGerbz Gerben de Jonge

    Hey Brent,

    I’m very sorry to hear you’ve left. You can probably (I certainly do) be counted among the industry’s greatest, seeing as what you have been responsible for.

    I am wondering about something though, and I hope you can / are willing to clear up if they are just ‘conspiracy theories’, paranoia, or truth.

    I, and as far as I know many others too, have the feeling that the last few years Bioware’s getting more and more influenced by EA. In the sense of wanting to release a game each year at the cost of quality, releasing literally dozens of DLC at the cost of focussing their time on making a ‘complete’ game, and removing a lot of immersion from the games through a lot of things both small and big, like for example not being able to buy wares from traders anymore in both ME2 and DA2, but having to interact with some object next to them…

    After having read a few replies of you on this page I doubt you’ll be making more great games for us, but I’ll certainly keep my hopes up!

    Cheers!

    Gerbz

    Current score: 0