Game Reviews,  The Lazy Designer

How the story began

Getting some new readers to the blog curious about my time with BioWare.

I wrote a series of blog posts, one for each year I spent with BioWare, and I think they are probably the best place to start:

This is the first:

After reading the series I’d encourage you to check out the Lazy Designer posts, which are the beginnings of a book on game design I’m in the process of writing.

Former lead designer at BioWare (Dragon Age: Origins, Neverwinter Nights). Creator of Raiders of the Serpent Sea.


  • Robert


    Interesting – did you not want to take the opportunity that Dragon Age 2 presented to write a short ‘making of Origins’ book? Something like how the ideas came about, how were developed, the thinking behind the rules, the combat balance, main difficulties in the coding, funniest bugs, weirdest interviews, any regrets, favorite levels, etc etc – I think it would have found a fair few eager buyers. Especially in March. But even now the debate about whether there is any future for the ‘old school’ cRPG is still cropping up in forums and developer interviws. It took DA2 for a lot of people to realize that Origins was now extinct, and, in a wider context, the immediate future for games that require anything more than fast reflexes to beat, was not that rosy.

    The latest news is particularly surprising – a number of Mass Effect fans are worried about Riccietello’s comments about delaying Mass Effect 3 to “make it” (?) an RPG meets shooter (and the DICE team coming in to spruce up the bullets and explosions). Plus Christina’s comments about culling “meaningless” stats in combat.

    By the way … one question about Origins I meant to ask you last time – is the difficulty level adaptive (ie not just the one the player sets). For example, would a fight (on the same difficulty) get easier if I reloaded it 5 times? Or would it be harder if the last 10 fights in a row the party had lost minimal hit points? I know that Sid Meier’s recent games take account of your loading history, and Call of Duty gets really nasty if you’re using an unlimted ammo RPG (unlocked as an achievement). Either way, what are your thoughts on this approach to game design?



  • Brent Knowles


    I’ll write a more general game design book down the road but a specific ‘Dragon Age Behind the Scenes’ I’ll avoid… there’s many stories I’d like to write about but there’s legal/personal issues that I’d rather not stir up. It would be a good read though :)

    Haven’t really been tracking much to do about Mass Effect 3…. I’d be surprised if they changed it a lot from Mass Effect 2.

    In regards to the Origins difficulty level I do not believe it is adaptive. I’m not a fond of adapative difficulty… the player should be understanding what they are choosing to do.

    Basically the game should only *change* if the player makes choices…
    such as lowering the difficulty setting. An experience that just adapts
    to a player and allows the player to be little more than a passive
    spectator to the experience without the player needing to understand
    how to influence events is no longer a game.

    That said if a player wanted to choose a difficulty setting wherein the
    game DID adapt to their playing styles (i.e., got easier if they were
    not very good) I would be okay with that but the player should choose
    this, not have it chosen for them.

    What I am okay with is being adaptive in presenting tips or hints to a player who is struggling. i.e., if you die 10 times fighting the dragon suggest in the reload tips some dragon-specific strategies. Again, I can’t remember if that made it out of the design documentation and into the game itself.

  • Robert

    Brent – I guess there are always stories like that… Maybe best left untold as well- whenever I see Grand Moff Tarkin, I can’t help laughing because I know he was standing barefoot during many scenes (apparently they couldn’t find jackboots his size on time). I guess on reflection, if someone asked me to do a ‘kiss and tell’ on one of my reports (dull as they are, so not a scenario I’m ever likely to encounter), it would take me ages (agonizing over the nuances of every word I picked).

    I was surprised about BioWare seemingly tweaking the Mass Effect formula. Firstly, the info is very scant at the moment, and there’s a bit of jumping to conclusions going on. Secondly, I honestly don’t see how they could strip out RPG elements out of ME – it’s already just a shooter with dialog. But it baffles me how they could even contemplate fiddling with such a winning combination. *If* the transformation of the Dragon Age IP to a “wider audience” had been a universal success, I could understand. As it is, I’d be playing it safe.

    The strategy tips did not make it into Origins. And that was unfortunate because a couple of my friends ragequit early on (both avid D&D fans in our school days, btw). Actually, one of them just completed it a few months back, because I was on a business trip to his country, and happened to have brought my personal notebook for a change. So I loaded up a mid level encounter, and 20 minutes of nodding / aha-ing later, he finally ‘got’ it. Achievement Unlocked – beat Marjolaine on nightmare, after 5 pints of beer :)

    I agree wholehartedly, that games should play ‘fair’, and keep the difficulty ‘as set’. The moment the mechanics start ‘metagaming’, my interest level goes down. Just don’t like being punished for doing things right! Sneaky Sid Meier – in Civilization III onwards, reloading has no effect on combat outcome…



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