At a recent Electronic Arts showcase we got a chance to sit down with Mike Laidlaw, the lead designer of Dragon Age: Origins who should, under no circumstances be confused with Marc Laidlaw of Valve. Trust us, we nearly made that mistake.
While everyone else was playing the latest build of the game in the specially set-up presentation room, we sat down with Mike in a pair of huge wooden thrones, the floor around us littered with fake skulls and PC cables. It was so atmospheric we were tempted to demand a glass of mead from a nearby wench, but we doubted the command would go down well with whichever fellow journalist we barked at.
Instead, we thought it best to just get on with the interview...
bit-tech:So, Mike, you’re the lead designer on Dragon Age. Can you give us a quick idea of the story and what the general themes of the game are?
Mike Laidlaw: Yeah, sure. The story is essentially your rise to glory from a humble origin of your choice – which is where the title of the game, Dragon Age: Origins, comes from. You start in one of about six origin situations or scenarios, all of which are fully playable and take about an hour or more to complete, which eventually propel you into the role of a Grey Warden.
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The Grey Wardens are essentially this ancient order who exist to always fight this thing called The Blight. What you find is that humanity has drawn an invisible line in the sand, you know; “we’re stopping this here, dammit!” and you join up with this order. It happens for a number of reasons which mostly depend on your origin story, but you’re kind of compelled to join up with the Grey Wardens and you find yourself in the role of what is essentially an army-maker.
So, you become a general and you go around the world enlisting and collecting people who swore centuries ago to aid the Grey Warden in the event of a Blight uprising, which happens when an Archdemon rears its head. You go around and call in all these old favours and say to people that “you swore to help and now it’s time to do it”.
BT:And we’re guessing they aren’t all willing to do it?
ML: Well, you know, they’re not exactly all lined up! Sometimes the reasons are magical, sometimes political. In the case we’re showing today the mages aren’t helping because they’ve been possessed by a rogue mage, so in that case you have to stop that, right? We certainly make sure to keep you busy in the adventure and it ultimately leads up to this grand conflict with The Blight itself and preventing the rise of this Archdemon.
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BT:So, does it follow a level-based structure, as in; you’ve done the mages, now the templars, now the werewolves? Or can you take factions on as you want?
ML: Yeah. There are lots of different things you can do and the order in which you do them is up to you too. It’s not straight progression by any means. In fact, you’re given a world map and kind of told...good luck!
BT:Towards the end of the game are you actually controlling this entire army, or is the action still more about your small squad?
ML: It’s somewhere between those two, I suppose. I don’t really want to give away too much about it right now at this point, but certainly the allies you choose do have a significant role to play at the end. You end up with this mix of those two ideas. We wanted the game to stay focused on your character and you’ve got your team of four to control and guide through the world, but if I were you I wouldn’t be surprised to see allies in a support role.