My Life

What do you want to know?

Okay I have a cold and my two sick kids are home with me and I’m in the middle of major novel revisions and Empire Avenue is near to rolling out our super killer robot army to take over the world some exciting new updates.

So I’m busy. I have a lot I want to talk about here, some new Lazy Designer articles in rough draft and whatnot, but I need to get Other Things done first.

Instead of posting anything today I’m just going to ask if any of you would like to know something I haven’t touched on before. A game design question? A BioWare question? A question about my stories? Or maybe even something about snow (I’m an expert now).

p.s. I’ve noticed that I’m not always getting an email when there is a reply on a comment thread so I have to check up on that. If you asked me something as a reply to another comment please try me again!

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


  • Kevin H

    Hi Brent,

    Stumbled across this blog while reading about DA2. Not going to get into much detail about that other than to say it is the same as ME2… that is, a decent game on its own but a pathetic effort compared to its predecessor. Bioware has gone the way of Westwood/EALA in my mind without a doubt, in that I am going to follow the people not the company.

    I have a few absolutely burning questions for you and I am very glad you are asking for them. My absolute favorite game of all time, without a doubt, is the original KOTOR. Being a combination star wars nerd/rpg nerd made it inevitable, but the reason I love it so deeply is the combat system. I know you didn’t work on this directly, but you seem to be the best person I can find to ask this… if you don’t want to/can’t answer I understand.

    Specifically, the combat I am referring to is the queuing up actions then watching the characters fight it out in real time with the swings, parries, dodges, etc. The game came out like 7-8 YEARS ago if I’m not mistaken and I still play through it occasionally and adore the combat system. Now, it does have its ridiculous features… watching someone with a lightsaber stand there and hack at a defenseless person with a blaster, pause, hack again 3 seconds later etc. until they die is silly. But when sword met sword or lightsaber met lightsaber it was truly a visual treat I have NEVER seen another game accomplish. This combat system allowed for tactical sophistication and cinematic flair.

    I guess with that background my questions are these:

    1. Why didn’t DA:O go with that style? With the incredible improvements in graphics and animations over the years, I am sure that style would be incredible eye candy. Throw in the finishing moves as a standard feature (which, I must note, is a very popular mod because they are so damn cool) and you have an amazing-looking combat system. DA:Os melee combat system wasn’t bad, certainly… but without the finishing moves mod it really is not visually exciting except for those rare moments where you did get finishers. It is kind of ridiculous to watch a tiny dwarf hack away at a bandit with an absurdly huge broadsword while the enemy makes zero attempt to parry or dodge or anything. Please understand, however, I did love the dragon age combat after I downloaded and installed the mod… I just would have gone crazy for it had it included KOTOR-like cinematic flair… and given the absurd popularity of KOTOR I am fairly sure I’m not the only one.

    2. For that matter, what other games if any HAVE gone with that style? I haven’t seen any I can think of, which just baffles me considering what a gigantic success the first KOTOR was.

    3. Was there any thought to “finishers” for mages? By this I mean like someone killed by flame blast, for example, igniting and falling down flailing/writhing. You could get ridiculously creative with that stuff, although I have no idea how hard it is to program obviously.

    Gotta note, after reading through this I feel like I come across as someone who just wants BLOOD AND VIOLENCE, but that’s not really the case… I absolutely despise DA2 combat for the reason that enemies just tend to explode one after another in showers of blood but there’s no weight behind it, no flair… just like chopping down vegetables.

    Finally, were there ever discussions on changing blood magic from what it ended up being in the final game? I know this is veryyyyyyy nitpicky, but for a game that seemed to cover so many bases I always found it strange that becoming a reaver was WAY more impactful than becoming a blood mage, even though you get told over and over that blood magic is the highest form of evil. Absolutley nobody cares, even templars, and it really doesn’t impact the story in the slightest. I suppose in my head I imagined it as a late-game choice for mages that would make them incredibly powerful… but lose a lot of companions or something. Blood magic in game isn’t particularly powerful or impactful. Again, nitpicky I know but damn I am curious.

    Wow, that was a lot and I do have more questions but I’ll stop right there. If you find the time to read/answer these I really appreciate it, if not I understand.

    Most importantly, thank you for your work! DA:O is a cherished game of mine and I am very grateful you helped with that experience.

  • Brent Knowles


    Hi. Thanks for stopping by.

    re: Kotor Style Combat and Why It Wasn’t Used More

    I can’t speak for why KOTOR style combat wasn’t emulated by others but I’ll explain why I didn’t think it would work for DA:O. It has been many years so I might be foggy on the details but these are the general details as I remember them:

    Kotor was a synchronized combat system based upon rounds. It could create really cool looking combat sequences, as you mentioned, but it had some disadvantages.

    – It had a long combat round which meant if the player wanted to do something ELSE they had to wait until the combat round finished. This made the combat appear ‘slow’ and non-interactive and it never really caught on with the console gaming audience (i.e., Kotor was a hit but not a huge hit).

    – To do fancy parrying choreography means taking control away from the player… all the fancy footwork, the swings and the parries and the misses have to be precalculated and if any creature is bumped out of correct position everything looks ludicrous. I think in a single player game with no party it could work but not in a RTS-style combat game like DA:O

    – Finishing moves (and this relates to the mage question) only make sense if the player actually sees them happen. So if you throw a tonne of animation resources to show somebody being decapitated or immolated or frozen and shatter into a thousand chunks how do you make sure the player sees that? Do you freeze the action and show the cool animation… no because that would aggravate players (i.e., locking a player into a cinematic pulls camera control away from them and disorients them when camera control returns to them). So decisions have to be made regarding whether it is worth the animation/art time to create things that people may/may not see. I think there were some spell combo death effects in place in DA:O but I might be mistaken.

    – There were cool animation death blows in DA:O but they were generally short so as to preserve player control. Its a balancing act between cinematic coolness and player control. The most awesome looking duel two swordsmen could have would probably be one where the player didn’t control a single thing. But that would suck as a game.

    As for Blood Magic… I’m not really sure I remember how it ended up being implemented so I’m not sure I can answer that question. I remember there being several ‘blood-magic’ decisions that made your companions attack you. Did these not ship with the game?

    Take care,


  • Kevin H

    Hi Brent,

    Thanks so much for the detailed response! I figured the answer had something to do with technical issues… too bad, that is an issue that has bugged me for a long time as I just imagine the possibilities with today’s improved engines and such. I guess in my mind, clicking attack and watching your character swing a sword until the enemy dies is the exact same thing except with less flair, but clearly others disagree!

    As to the blood magic thing, I have finished the game multiple times and never once seen any sort of consequence for choosing that specialization, so if its there it is well hidden to say the least. The only one I ever saw resulting in being attacked was defiling the ashes for the reaver specialization, but it is entirely possible I missed something.

    Again, thank you very much for the responses, and best of luck on your future projects! Rest assured I will be following them closely.

  • Jim S.

    Hi Mr. Knowles

    I guess I have more personal questions, so it’s cool if you don’t want to answer :)

    Do you enjoy more working from home from the seemingly hectic and stressful game designer workplace ? Or do you miss it ?

    Do you feel that spending 6 years on Origins (with i’m assuming under lost of pressure) was worth it personally (as in, sense of accomplishment) ?

    What are your favorite games/movies/music CD/novel ?

    Do you still have snow ? (We had snow 2 days ago here in the province of Quebec)

    Were there any discussions (that you remember) involving the possibility of KOTOR 3 instead of the MMO ?



  • Brent Knowles


    Thanks for the questions!

    ( Do you enjoy more working from home from the seemingly hectic and stressful game designer workplace ? Or do you miss it ?)

    I do prefer working from home. BioWare was often hectic and stressful and I’m finding plenty of challenge in my writing and my consulting with Empire Avenue to keep me feeling satisfied.

    I do miss all my creative and crazy BioWare coworkers though. Haven’t had a real wacky conversation since I left.

    (Do you feel that spending 6 years on Origins … was worth it personally (as in, sense of accomplishment) ? )

    Eeek. This is a tough one to answer.

    I’m proud of what we, as a team, accomplished with Origins though in the end I’m fonder of my experiences on Baldur’s Gate 2 and the Neverwinter expansion packs — both of which occupy spots on my ‘trophy shelf’ whereas I don’t even own a copy of Dragon Age.

    I turned away several other career opportunities while working on Dragon Age that I now, in part, regret, so I think that also has a bit to do with my ambivalence towards it.

    (What are your favorite games/movies/music CD/novel ?)

    For games I’d say (almost) anything Ultima holds a dear spot in my heart, as do the original Space Quest and Quest for Glory games.

    In terms of having an effect on my life and influencing me I’d lean towards the Star Wars movies, I guess. Music? This changes a lot for me… classical soundtracks are great for writing… I listen to Last of the Mohicans and Braveheart often.

    As for novel I can’t narrow it down to less than four… Watership Down, The Stone and the Flute , the Stand and Dreams Underfoot (which is actually a collection of short stories but I’ll count it anyways).

    (Do you still have snow ?)
    Yes! Lots on the ground still and it has been snowing sporadically the last few days.


    Not that I recall. The MMO was very top secret… I didn’t know what they were working on until well after they had started.

    Hope the answers satisfy and thanks again.

    Take care,


  • Andrew

    Good afternoon Brent,

    I’m curious and you’ll have to forgive me for not researching more before asking if that in reality turns out to be relevant, but you mentioned I notice that you like to write novels and such and I wanted to know… If you wrote a novel say a fantasy or any type that could at a later date be turned into a video game like so many are these days, who would you wish to have in charge of it’s direction and production or would you wish to be hands on leading the way yourself in the direction in took if such a situation ever took place.

    Many thanks


  • Brent Knowles


    You’ve discovered my secret ambition!

    If I felt I still had a good grasp of game mechanics at the point when a novel of mine is optioned for a video game, I would try and be involved in some capacity. Even if I decided not to be hands-on in regards to the game design I’d want to keep ownership and direction of the franchise.

    Which would mean no sane game developer would ever want to touch any of my work :)



  • Andrew

    Thank you Brent for answering my question, while I personally am not in a position to facilitate that outcome I really do hope at some point in the future you see that desire turn into a reality. I for one would love to see where such an endeavour would lead too and believe you have the talent and knowledge to make such a thing work if ever the opportunity arised.

    I wish you the best of luck and hope some point in time I see such a project in the works.

    Best wishes to you and your family and thanks again for quick response to my question.


  • Mel

    This is a very, very late response to this entry but I just was curious–if you are able to reply to this question still, now, or at all–about your intended plans for the Dragon Age series. I may be wrong but I had heard that you intended a multi-game story for the Warden, a la Shepard, following DA: Origins. Would you be able to elaborate at all on plans for that? Thank you in advance, Mr. Knowles, and please forgive this tragically late post :)

  • Brent Knowles

    Hi Mel.

    There were tentative plans for a multi-game story — not mine exclusively, but the work of the various senior staff that contributed to the project. I’m thinking that most of this was probably James and David. I’d say the work was at the brainstorming level, maybe a bit beyond.

    I thought there was some interesting stuff in there. As for the actual details, that’s not really for me to say (plus I’m old and my memory isn’t what it used to be). I’m sure all that documentation still exists on BioWare’s internal network though. Maybe one day you might be able to convince them to post some of it?

    take care,


  • Mel

    Thank you so much for the reply, Mr. Knowles…I truly appreciate it! I love Dragon Age: Origins and the Warden’s story, and it would have been amazing to carry it over in future full-length games. I appreciate your speaking on what it is possible to discuss. I would love someday to see more of the brainstorming you mentioned, and will definitely see what more I might be able to find out from BioWare.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful reply, especially so long after your original entry :) I truly appreciate it, and your work on DA:O and elsewhere. Best of luck in all your endeavors!


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