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David Gaider Interview

One of the things we did at Thedas UK was to have an interview via Skype with David Gaider himself, for over an hour. We were able to record most of it, and I've spent some time transcribing the whole thing. Here's where I test how long a post LJ will let me do! A LOT of interesting and surprising info came up in the session, revelations about the Calling, about Templars and the history of their order, mages, discussion about Anders, Nathaniel Howe, Cullen, and Sandal (among others), so much stuff. I hope you're as thrilled to read it all as we were to do the interview!


Interview with David Gaider, at Thedas UK Con in Leicestershire, England, on Saturday January 14th, 2012.

Our very first question was to wonder why, on the whiteboard behind David Gaider, was written "6. KILL THEM ALL." The answer was "Yeah, you should see what 1 through 5 are..." It was a gag for the interview set up by some of the other writers. ;) No wonder we love these guys.

Unfortunately, due to a technical hitch, the first bit of the interview is missing. Apologies for that. =( Included in the missing section was David Gaider introducing himself and telling some of his past work history, and a few questions about release dates for DA3/future DLC and his explanation of why he couldn't (alas) give us any concrete information or even strong hints about either due to contractual obligations and other complications; all they're able to say was that they are "working on something" (with the implication wink wink nudge nudge for us to interpret as we will) (my description, not his).

We therefore start in the middle of a sentence. The question at hand where we begin is whether or not co-op play (either offline or online) was something they would think of including as an option for DA3. I've edited a smidge for clarity (leaving out "um"s and the like, mostly) and will include a few facial expressions that happened where they're particularly relevant, marked with [brackets]. While we had a mod (me) directing the conversation and asking most of the questions, there were questions and comments from others as well, and for the sake of my sanity all Thedas UK people will just be labelled as TUK, and David Gaider will be labelled as DG.


DG: ...in that, being able to share this story that you love, with people who maybe aren't themselves interested in diving into the story by themselves. So that's a possibility, I think we're investigating that. It will make the story more challenging. Having a very directed story-driven narrative is difficult when you start working multiplayer into it but we will see what we can do.

TUK: I think this is the part where we start getting into terribly specific questions about Thedas and things that happen. Mine in particular is, I want to know more about the Band of Three and why there are more blood mages per capita in Kirkwall than normal people. What happened underneath the sewers with thousands of slaves being [sacrificed]. What was up with that? Will we find out more later, or can you tell us anything more?

DG: There was a lot of blood sacrifices in Thedas when the Tevinter ruled. Tevinter Imperium wanted a place where slaves could be gathered and trained and sold, that wasn't inside the Imperium itself, and at that time Kirkwall sort of laid on the fringes, and it a very dirty business so they sent everybody out there. So it was a very brutal place, lots of death, and as is typical for Thedas anywhere you have lots of death and emotional trauma the Veil becomes very thin. So that's a story reason, gameplay reason is that the gameplay guys wanted lots of mages to fight. There was a point late in the project we kind of realized 'Hey, we have sort of a shortage of good mages...' It's not that they aren't there. It's because you're constantly in combat, and the story is intersecting with the more interesting elements of the mages which is, where there's conflict there's things to fight so you see a lot of blood mages. So really the fact that it seems like the blood mages are an overwhelming majority is one of perception, but storywise it's not meant to be that Kirkwall is teeming with blood mages. Hawke just happens with all of it.

TUK: Were the Magisters trying to accomplish anything in particular with what they were doing in Kirkwall, or was it just a convenient location?

DG: It was a convenient location. It wasn't like they created Kirkwall in order to do something sinister, it's that Kirkwall having A) a ready available of sacrifices and B) a very thin Veil, I mean why do they put the Circles of Magi wherever there's a thin Veil? It's really dangerous, but it's sort of a chicken-egg thing. Even if they did build a Circle where there wasn't a thin Veil eventually over time the Veil would thin anyhow. And it happens to be that these are the more magical places, the thinner the Veil is the more magic you have available. It's arguable, you could say 'Well if we want to control mages, maybe we should them in places where there isn't a lot of magic!

TUK: [laughing] That would be too logical.

DG: Yes and no. The thing to remember as well is that the Circles were created to help Thedas as well. We had the Blights, and the first Circles were created shortly after the first Blight. The mages become vitally important when there's a Blight in order to combat the darkspawn. So it wasn't like the Chantry wanted to cripple the mages, they wanted them to have the power they needed to help humanity. But to give on one you lose the other, there's a bit of a conundrum. As to what the Tevinters were up to in Kirkwall, when they realized what they had available, you had some mentions of it in the codex. I don't know whether we'll ever follow up on that story. Ultimately they did not succeed because the slaves eventually rebelled, there was the giant rebellion. What you have left is the remnants of what they were attempting at the time.

TUK: To jump to a completely different topic--sorry, these aren't particularly in order--we'd all like to know will we find out more about the Kossith and the Northern Continent, and could we get some female Qunari maybe? We saw the designs for the female Qunari that in the end was left out and we'd all really like to see some of them.

DG: Yes, the idea of the Kossith, because they're a unique race we wanted to introduce them in chunks, so in Origins Sten was your window into what they were, and then in DA2 you have the Arishok, and a little bit more detail. I thought he worked out pretty well actually, I think the second chapter in DA2 had the most work done on it so it was the most polished. I think eventually we'd like to work up to {too muffled to make out this word or phrase}. Certainly the Qunari are a big thing, I think we've {too muffled} that. There's a different between intention and will we ever get there, I don't know. Right now we have a lot of balls up in the air that we have to deal with before we can move on to entirely new conflicts, but the Qunari are definitely there, they're a giant piece of Thedas, I think they're very interesting they work very well, so very likely at some point we'll pick them up and make them the big thing, right. So yeah, you definitely will see some work there.

TUK: Actually that leads back to a similar question. Is this intended to be a series of three games or do you think it will keep going after the next one, and there may be a Dragon Age 4 eventually?

DG: That's difficult to say. Unlike Mass Effect, we didn't set out to make a trilogy. There's a point I think at which trying to import saved data and keeping things consistent becomes a little problematic. A lot of fans expect that every single decision be treated as sacrosanct, and it's very hard to do that and make a coherent plot. Some of the really big world-changing decisions, the only way could maintain those in a way that is significant would be to make entirely divergent plots, which would be great if we could do it, but we can't. So we have to control it to a degree, and it's possible that at a certain point we might need to reboot the plot. But we never intended to set out and make a trilogy, we just wanted to use Dragon Age as an interesting setting for fantasy games, and however many we could make in that until...at the time when we made Origins we had no idea if this would be successful or interesting to people, we thought we'd try a game and see what we could do and it's worked fairly well. The idea when I made Thedas was...at the time, we didn't know what the plot was. We had not made Origins, we had nothing in mind for what we could do for a game. So when I created the setting I kind of made sure that every major area in Thedas had something interesting about it, some conflict that was there, something that "Oh yeah, I could set a story there that could have an entire game revolve around it, or a novel, or a movie, or whatever the case might be." It's doubtful that we'll get to them all but there's a lot of potential there.

TUK: Slightly related to that, will we see...some of the big decisions from Origins and Awakenings are do you go through with the Dark Ritual so that Morrigan has a child with an Old God's soul, and the Architect, whether or not you kill him. Will those characters come back later on, or those decisions come back and be relevant in the third game?

DG: When you're talking about decisions that the fans expect to be treated as sacred, the big decisions are the ones that....the small ones, whether a character lives or dies, or smaller side plots and stuff, that seems less important overall, but for the big ones like the Dark Ritual I don't think we can not respect the Dark Ritual. It's going to be tricky, and I think the problem we encounter with some of the big decisions is the level of expectation. There are some people saying on the forums that they expect the Dark Ritual to be the focus of an entire game, like "Oh, I think I should be playing the Old God baby and everything should revolve around that." Again, with that we have to make a completely different game for the person who did the Dark Ritual or didn't do the Dark Ritual, and we can't do that. So it's a little bit of a Catch-22 in that sense, but I think what we can at least promise is that the big decisions should have a big impact on your game. And I think that ideally, at least in my view, if you made a decision, you should get content that is specific to that decision. So if you did the Dark Ritual, if and when we brought Morrigan back, you should get something extra for having done the Dark Ritual, for having imported it, and it affects your game in some important facet. It may not be as important as some people like, but it can be important, and provided we have the time to create the content...ideally there would be unique content, as much of it as possible for these variations. I'd like for somebody who's played a future game to come back and tell their friend "Oh yeah, this happened with Old God Baby and it was really cool," and they were like, "Wow, that didn't happen in my game!" I think that's the kind of talk we'd like to have. It's a challenge for the writing team, there was a point recently when we were sitting down and discussing plot, and I threw out "Okay, there's this big decision from Dragon Age Origins that we're going to have to deal with. Here's our current plot, here's what the decision was, so what do we do to respect that decision in this without making it balloon out of control" and there was silence. I think Cheryl eventually piped up, she said "Monkeys!" It's not as easy and there's a little bit of potential in the end that nobody's pleased. If you try to deal with it as best you can you end up not pleasing the people who want it to be huge, and not pleasing the people who begrudge the fact that this thing that they didn't do has any importance at all. So it's a bit of a challenge.

TUK: Can I ask a silly question? Or it's more of a silly request. In Dragon Age Origins and in 2, I really wanted to be able to hug my party members. Can we have more interaction?

TUK: In conjunction with that, I frequently wanted to punch my party members!

DG: I know one of the things after DA2, from some of the feedback, one of the things that was missed that we didn't expect, some people said "I just wanted to be able to kiss my romance, just if I wanted to." I think part of that was just having some interactions with your party members that the player initiates, that maybe aren't full conversations. Maybe the opportunity just to ask "How you doing?" As far as hugging them and consoling, whenever we have any of that kind of interaction our cinematic designers start turning pale. It's more difficult than you'd think to get those models to interact in a way that doesn't look like shadow puppets pawing at each other. But we do want to get back a little bit to allow your player to interact in smaller ways with your companions. If we don't put, say, hugging and stuff inside the big conversations, you're right that's a good place occasionally where that might fit. And having the ability to go up to your party member, ask how you're doing, and they say "Well, I'm Anders, and therefore I'm sad" and have the ability to give them a hug or a kiss. (TUK: Or kitten!) There was a point I remember with Morrigan in Origins where you could just walk up to her in the camp and say "You know what? You're a bitch." And actually strangely enough she was okay with it. Until she wasn't, and went "Yeah, that's enough, you've called me that enough now." So I think having a bit more of that is something we'd like to get back to.

TUK: Let's jump to the character several of us have agreed is actually our favourite character, which is Sandal. [DG looks extremely startled] ...yes, really. You look so surprised!

DG: Well, Sandal in Dragon Age Origins was fun. We brought him back for DA2. A lot of people thought it wasn't the same voice actor, but he was. That was Yuri Lowenthal. I don't know what it was, having Sandal just saying "Enchantment!" was adorable. I think as soon as you started having him talk more I kind of got a little bit of the feeling, like we were going somewhere a little uncomfortable to me, almost like we were making fun of mentally handicapped people. He's not mentally handicapped but sometimes he sounds like it. I'm a little leery of what was essentially a bit of a joke, and a lot of people are taking him more seriously than he was perhaps intended, to the point that perhaps he may become more important as a result.

TUK: Well he gets that fantastic prophecy out of nowhere in the middle of the game, you're clicking on him to hear the random things he says--he quotes Cold Comfort Farm, major kudos to you guys from me for that--and then suddenly we get this amazing prophecy that's creepy and astonishing. Which we assume you can't tell us anything about which is why we're not asking. Unless you can!

DG: There was a point really late in DA2, we did DA2 in a really short span of time so we were working really hard, and as is typical for writers, we have to finish before anyone else. So we're in the pool first, we have to be out of the pool first, so all the cinematic designers and voice recording stuff can start to occur. So all our crunch time is happening in the middle of the project as opposed to at the end. So right in the middle we get a little punch-drunk and put in things to amuse ourselves, or we go insane.

TUK: They amuse us too, for the record.

DG: Yeah, and we probably go insane anyhow. But I was writing Sandal and I put in this, I think he has a one percent chance of delivering a prophecy. And I remember sitting there going "What do I know about where we're going with the franchise that I can be really vague about?" So I put it in, and I remember reading on the forums and it was very pleasing that to have someone say "Yeah, Sandal did this thing, he delivered this whole prophecy!" and to have everyone say "Nooooo, what are you talking about, I never heard that and I clicked on Sandal forever. "Whether Sandal will ever be more important to the narrative, I guess we'll see. Right now with Sandal I just see him as the whim strikes me. To appear a little insensitive is a concern of mine, same with Serendipity and a couple other characters, sometimes you can unintentionally say things about characters that you didn't intend and you have to be a little bit wary of that, know what I mean?

TUK: Can you tell us what he did to the ogre that was apparently not enchantment, that he...what the hell did he do?

DG: He went "Boom!" Sandal makes things, Sandal makes really cool things, sometimes he puts them in his pockets and forgets about them until there's an ogre handy.

TUK: So Bodahn and Sandal were at the end of the last game on their way, certainly to Orlais I think to Val Royeaux specifically. I know you said that DA3 will be set more all over the continent--

DG: Well, Mike said that.

TUK: Sorry, plural you here. Can you tell us, will it start in Val Royeaux or will part of it be set in Val Royeaux because we'd be quite curious to see it, with all we've heard about the Chantry, and that's where all the power really is.

DG: I can't talk a lot about what will happen for DA3, but the point was always sort of to move on in David Eddings fashion and visit parts of the world. So I think I'd like to move on. Mike's point about the continent thing was DA2 was a much more personal story, it took place in a much smaller area, with one city and the environs and I think for a lot of people it lacked some of that epic scope, which is valid.

TUK: Yes, some liked it more, some liked it less, it varied.

DG: Yeah, exactly, you're not going to please everyone in that respect. But I can definitely see the idea that okay, with Origins you at least had the impression that you voyaged across Ferelden and saw very interesting facets of the world. And while DA2 had a really cool story and part of that personal story was intentional, I can see that the scope made it feel a little confined, so when Mike says...we can't possibly visit the whole continent. The intention there is to say we want to have some more areas that are going to make the player go "Oooh!" and a bit more breadth. I'd like to visit Orlais, there's been a lot established about Orlais that I find very interesting. All I said to Mike one time was that "If we go to Orlais, I want a masquerade ball. I want a masquerade ball and dancing." [TUK: assorted laughter and cheering] The Tevinter Imperium is another possibility. That brings up the Qunari as well, but where we'll go next, it's difficult to say, but Orlais seems a likely bet.

TUK: In conjunction with spreading out the breadth of the story, at least location-wise, is it possible that we could get the multiple origins for the starting point of the next character of Dragon Age 3, who presumably will be somebody different.

DG: The origins in Origins, they were an interesting feature, they were important for the first game because they were designed to introduce the world. You had a view into the world. Part of whether we would go back to origins depends on whether we would have different races for the player again. There were pros and cons to having a set race for the player. Whether we would go back to origins, it was a lot of hunting, because it was essentially a separate chapter for each origin. I think it's more likely that some kind of middle ground will arise. Mostly because of time issues but a lot of it was intentional as well, the ability to have your....let me get my words straight here, I am a writer in theory...the customization was stripped down at the beginning of DA2 and a lot of it was necessary, but ideally we'd like to have some more of that customization back in. Although as soon as you go back to all the customization Origins had you inherit some of the weakness Origins had in that respect as well. So I think I'd like to have some sort of origin or background ability, something for the player to pick in that respect, give themselves a little more flavor and choice on what kind of character they're playing. Whether we'd go back to the full blown origins and unique chapter we had before, that seems a little unlikely but it really is related to how much content can we produce and where we would like to put it. Having eight chapters--was it eight?

TUK: Six.

DG: Oh yeah, right. It's funny because the other two are still real to me, for me the human barbarian and human commoner are still real origins, I remember them just fine. Yes, six, having six chapters was a lot of content to create for something that worked in that it was needed for Origins to introduce those races and those stations in life, but because they didn't have a big effect later on it's a bit of discussion over "Well, was that really a good use of our time?" I'd almost would like to take some of that content and put it in the middle and later portions of the game just to allow consequence for your choices, because we didn't have time to create a lot of content, there was a lot of big consequences in DA2 and I think I want to get back to that as well.

TUK: Will we get rid of the waves in DA3? The random people that keep attacking you?

DG: Sorry, I didn't catch that...[Question repeats] Oh, I thought she said the wives! I don't know if you guys played any of the DA2 DLC? I think you can see what, if the gameplay team has more time to put polish on things like the waves, what they can do. I think one of the comments on the DLC was "Oh, the opponents seem a lot better paced, they're not just dropping out of mid-air and there seemed to be a little more thought in how the waves came into combat" and that is the intention, I think that's where we're going with that. Will we get rid of waves entirely, no, but I think the idea is not to have waves everywhere so that you're just constantly fighting spawns after spawns of opponents, and to have them enter the combat in a more intelligent and tactical manner. That they're used in select places, not just in every combat. The best one is probably DLC3, Mark of the Assassin, that probably was where the gameplay team had the most time to iterate on it. Iteration is everything, the more time you have to make it, then play it, you see what's wrong with it and go back and redo it, and we had a fair amount of time to work on the DLCs, which was nice, so if you play that you can see where we're going with that.

TUK: One thing I loved with Origins was the toolset, for making the mods. Is there any chance we could get something like that in the future, and any chance it might work on a Mac?

DG: Macintosh, gosh. Will anything work on the Mac, I have no idea. The toolset is problematic because A) it's PC only, so whatever we make with it is for a segment of our fanbase, and that's not to imply that they're not an important segment, they totally are, but it is a minority. So we have to realize that okay, whatever work we do, it should not be taken as an "Everyone would benefit from this," only PC users can use the toolset or use the mods. So there is that, there also is the fact that we're drawing in a lot more third-party software and support for our own toolset, which means that our ability to release that software becomes an issue because we don't make everything in-house anymore. It wasn't as much the case with Origins, we had a couple of things like speech-read stuff which we could include or easily extract, and some of the utilities we're using now are becoming a bit more integral to the toolset, we can't just release the toolset without also releasing that, and this is proprietary software that belongs to these third parties, right, we can't just hand it out. Which is not to say that we'll never put out a toolset again, but I'm not the person who decides that so I can't make promises one way or another. The amount of work it would take to try and extract these third-party softwares or negotiate to include them, which would be a big cost to ourselves, in order to help a segment of our fanbase...the desire is there but in a lot of ways it doesn't make sense, financial sense or other aspects. It is an on-going discussion so it is by no means guaranteed. But I know one benefit of the toolset, it makes financial sense in other ways because for those PC users the game stays on their hard drive longer, they play it longer, they proselytize to other people and get them involved, so there are benefits to be had. But being part of a corporation means that whenever money is involved it becomes part of a big discussion.

TUK: Let's jump back to really specific questions for a bit. Where was Anders during Uldred's uprising? Had he already escaped from the Circle, or some people argue that he was still in solitary confinement--which is an interesting throwaway line that's mentioned somewhere--

DG: Because he was caught at the beginning of Awakenings, I suspect he had already escaped, and a good thing too.

TUK: Okay, another one is...for Rendon Howe's children, Nathaniel, Delilah, and Thomas. What's their birth order, which is eldest or middle or youngest?

DG: I think Nathaniel was the oldest, wasn't he?

TUK: It's never mentioned, we're not sure!

DG: It's never mentioned? Hah, well, I could decide right here! I seem to recall--it's been a while--that Nathaniel was the oldest and Thomas was the youngest, but I could be wrong about that. I seem to remember that Nathaniel was his father's heir, that because he was the oldest he went off to learn how to be a warrior essentially, he was fostered, it's a very common tradition to be fostered with another noble family, and then returned. As I recall he was the heir and not the younger son.

TUK: And that's why he was sent to the Free Marches, he was fostered out?

DG: Yeah.

TUK: With mages and possession, does a mage actually have to agree to a deal with a demon in order to get possessed, or can it just happen? Can demons just go "Ah-hah, you're asleep, I will slip in while nobody's looking..." Is the truth different from what the Chantry says on the subject?

DG: They have to agree, but agree doesn't necessarily mean a conscious "Yes, please, please come in my body and turn me into a twisted abomination." Agreeing can be a moment of weakness. If you're unwilling or unable to resist being possessed then you'll be possessed. There are mages who make an intelligent bargain with a demon. Sometimes, the tricky part, something we haven't been able to show very well, is sometimes they're not aware that's what they're doing. I don't know how many people have read Asunder, the last Dragon Age novel. That does show a bit of how it's possible for a mage to be in contact with a demon and not even be aware that that's what's happening, and agreeing to things that they don't know that they're agreeing to. To say that a mage must agree is both true and false in the sense that a lot of it relates to the will of the mage and their strength to resist a very determined demon, but I think you can also see from the games and the novels that there are levels of possession as well. Not everybody who becomes possessed by a demon immediately turns into an abomination and starts attacking everything in sight. It depends on the type of demon that's attempting to take possession, how powerful they are, how intelligent they are, and the mage in question. As is typical of Dragon Age, the answer is never [typical].

TUK: The Templar abilities, are they--despite the Chantry's protestations--a form of magic?

DG: I would say that they are magic, they derive from lyrium, which is magic. The tricky thing there is that the Chantry is awfully hypocritical when it comes to magic, in that there are sorts of magic that they will use. Actually I should take that back, it's not necessarily that they're hypocritical, they don't have anything against magic itself. Magic can be useful, they know the mages are useful. It's the elements of possession and blood magic, all the forbidden magic where things get really dicey. Even if Templar magic was recognized as spellcasting, it's not innate to the Templars, if they just stopped taking lyrium eventually they would lose the ability. Although as Alistair proves, they can use the ability for a long time afterwards. I think part of that was just the requirements of gameplay, for us to have a specialization as well, so some of that story doesn't quite match up with the gameplay, and I think eventually we'd like to work the lyrium requirement back into the gameplay as well. Regardless the magic the Templars use doesn't involve mind control, it's not forbidden magic, there's nothing about it--especially since it can only against mages--there's nothing about it that would make the Chantry step in and go "Wow, that's bad." But then we're talking about a Chantry that also has phylacteries in every Circle, which is a type of blood magic, so there's definitely an element of hypocrisy there.

TUK: In DA2, no one seemed to care that my Hawke was a blood mage. I was walking around Kirkwall with a staff in my hand going "I'm a blood mage! Look at me!" Everyone just didn't notice.

DG: Part of that was, there was actually a plot in chapter one which got cut, which was if you were a mage, it specifically addressed that point. Not much we can do about that. Part of it is gameplay. One assumes that you're not walking around announcing to the world that you're a blood mage, or a mage for that matter. One assumes there are people who wear robes that aren't mages. You don't see that very much. So there's a little bit of a handwave there, I totally recognize that. The problem with the plot we cut is it wasn't working very well, it was very complicated, it involved going into the Fade and a few other things and we couldn't get it to work. Had we been a little smarter when we started we would have had some smaller reaction in the world, just recognizing who you were without a giant plot that required a lot of content. Going in the future I'd like to have more recognition of that. It is kind of funny, if you think about it too much there's a lot of things where gameplay and the story don't match up--

TUK: We really do think about it too much, we do know that, that's why we're here.

DG: Well, we think about it too. When we cut that plot I was like "Oh. All right, so...I guess nobody notices..." So I put a couple comments into Meredith's dialogue, she sort of comments "We knew who you were," and in a few other places. I think we should've put something into Cullen's dialogue. [laughter]

TUK: Poor Cullen. So oblivious.

DG: Jennifer wrote that plot, and afterwards, I forget what it was, someone said "You know, wouldn't Cullen happen to burst onto the scene and you're casting spells, wouldn't he say 'So you're a mage...'" It was too late for us to do anything about it and we decided that Cullen is just very oblivious.

TUK: [more laughter] But he's very sweet!

DG: He's very sweet. Poor guy, goes through life, he's at the Ferelden Tower, doesn't realize he's surrounded by blood mages. Goes to Kirkwall, doesn't realize he's surrounded by blood mages. Gonna end up with a little bit of a complex, he's like "Wow, I'm a lousy Templar!"

TUK: Any chance we'll see Cullen again, and might he be in our party?

DG: There are girls who work here who, if they had their way, definitely. He has really nice hair. Maybe. I could have plans right now and "Yeah, totally, we'd have him in the party and everything!" and then next week that would change, so I'm always leery of making promises. I like Cullen. I joke about him in some ways but I like the arc he represents. There are some minor characters, like Sandal for instance, I like the idea of having them be a unifying factor. Like R2D2 and C-3PO manage to make their way into every sort of plot. Every major story has the Maker's witnesses, who witness the big chances that are occurring, a bit of connecting tissue between the games. And there are things I think can be done with Cullen. I like the idea that he has confronted probably the worst that the mages have, he's encountered the worst of what mages can do. Yet he hasn't done what some Templars have done, like Meredith, or--I keep wanting to call him Knight Divine--Lord Seeker Lambert in the novel, how they have reacted is to become very anti-mage and very judgemental and to paint all the mages in the same basic plot, a few bad apples spoils the bunch. Cullen to me represents another side of Templars which is a side that we need to keep active. Not all Templars are these heartless bastards who would happily torture mages, that's not true, there are Templars who are good people. I think Cullen is a good man who recognizes that there are dangerous in magic, dangers that have to be dealt with, but he doesn't lack for compassion and doesn't try to say "Well, let's take the hard approach and kill everybody and let the Maker sort them out." At the end of DA2 he's the person who sort of tries to put on the brakes, the voice of sanity if you will. I think that's important to represent, so in that respect I like the idea of Cullen reappearing, I like that element of his character, so it's definitely a possibility.

TUK: We note the term Knight Divine. What kind of consequences does that have for the power structure of the Seekers?

DG: There is a Knight Divine. That's the structure of the Templars. The Templar Order head, the Knights Divine actually, they're plural. They serve directly underneath the Divine, herself. Technically it's kind of her bodyguards but they're also the heads of the Templar Order. Even then they're still subservient to the Seekers, the Seekers are a separate group which is also above the Templars. You can sort of think of them as, I don't know if you have this in the UK, Internal Affairs. A group within the police force that is separate but above. The Knights Divine control the day to day operations of the Templars, they are the ones who make all the rules, and a Seeker doesn't normally control the Templars. But if a Seeker shows up, they have the authority to override everybody else, that's the function they represent. They are the watchers of the watchmen.

TUK: So it's the equivalent of the Ars Magica Inquisitor Internal, isn't it?

DG: Yes. As a matter of fact the Templars were once all part of a group called the Inquisition. There was an Inquisition in Thedas. It existed around the time that the Chantry started to come to be. This was a time after the First Blight, after Andraste's March, when there was chaos everywhere, the Imperium had broken apart, you had the Old God cults, so a lot of blood magic. There was a lot of chaos, you had the cults of Andraste...and the Inquisition sort of arose as a group of people who said "Enough is enough, somebody has to do something about this magic that is tearing apart the world." And when the Chantry came to be they went to the Inquisition and said "Hey, we're of the same mind on this, why don't we pull together" and that's when the Inquisition turned into the Seekers and the Templar Order. They kind of merged. It'd be interesting to see if the Inquisition ever rose up again.

TUK: No one expects them!

DG: No one would expect that!

TUK: Can I ask, what effect if any Anders being merged with Justice is going to have on his Calling?

DG: Uh...interesting. I'm getting some...okay, it's gone now, I was hearing a mental voice there, it was weird. [laughter] There were some plans to address that but in the end it became very complicated. I think there are a couple possibilities. One is that the spirit within Anders can affect the level of his corruption, so it may delay or remove the necessity for his Calling altogether. Either that or at some point the corruption within Anders is going to corrupt the spirit. I think those are the two most likely outcomes. I'm not going to say which of those we prefer, because Anders can survive DA2 so therefore there's a possibility that we may need him in the future.

TUK: Ooh, awesome! ...says the person dressed as Anders! [laughter]

TUK: On that note, you've said that it takes about thirty years more or less between the Joining and the Calling, ish, [DG grimaces audibly and visibly]...sorry! What can accelerate or decelerate that process if anything, or is it something you created that you now regret?

DG: It's something I put in Alistair's dialogue that I now regret! Afterwards I was like, "Wow, thirty years is a long time for that time frame." I didn't really intend when I was writing it, and only afterwards when I went back I said "Oh...I guess it does sort of implies thirty years after you take the Calling, doesn't it..." Sorry, after you take the Joining. That wasn't really my intention. But it's out there now so I'm like, okay, thirty years. But the idea is also that it varies. Thirty years is the maximum that you could probably expect. It's going to vary for an individual according to their willpower and the level of their interaction with the darkspawn. During a Blight you can expect that the Grey Wardens are going to have shorter lifespans. Outside of a Blight the Grey Wardens would tend to live longer. We have instances in the game of people going on their Calling after five or ten years. Alistair's thirty year quote shouldn't be taken as gospel, that's the way I like it.

TUK: I'm really glad you said that because I took it that you wouldn't live past thirty, and it was only the fact that everybody else seemed to think it was the opposite that pulled me with them.

DG: Well, if Duncan was thirty years old, he would look pretty good for thirty. Yeah, so it's supposed to be a maximum thirty years after you take the [Joining] but it can vary, so I'd say the rule of thumb right now is between ten and thirty years, is the most common.

TUK: Do Grey Wardens still do the Calling, now that they know about Broodmothers? That was a really terrifying revelation in the first game "Oh my god, any women who are down here in the Deep Roads get taken off to spawn horrible monsters!"

DG: They always knew about Broodmothers, but they didn't know where Broodmothers came from. Knowing that...wow, I hadn't really considered whether they'd stop doing the Calling. I think if anything it makes it more problematic for female Wardens to do the Calling. That may be something we could incorporate into the future. It'd be an interesting question. Let's say a female Grey Warden starts to hear her Calling and says "Well, my time has come" and the rest of the Wardens say no, you can't go. You're a woman. You don't deserve to take part in what has been long, for many centuries, held as an honorable tradition, as a way for the Grey Wardens to go out in a way where they retain...I don't know if you read The Calling, the novel. The reason they do the Calling is because there's a tipping point at which the corruption in them starts to affect them physically, so rather than become some kind of ghoul they want to die while they still have their humanity, doing what they've spent the majority of their life dedicated to, killing darkspawn, one last hurrah. To go to a woman and say "No, you can't have this honorable ending because of what might happen to you." I think that would be an interesting story. I think in the end it might be up to the individual Warden. I could definitely see a female Warden who would rather kill herself than allow for the possibility that she could be transformed into a Broodmother.

TUK: Yeah, lots of women nodding in this room...

DG: That might be something we could bring up in the future, for sure.

TUK: Totally jumping question--we're running out of time, so I hope this will be a quick one--how long do elves live|? Clearly they once had much longer lifespans than they do, and they refer to humans as shemlen or quicklings, but how long do they actually live nowadays?

DG: City elves have the same lifespans as humans. They call them shemlen because it's an ancient word...occasionally city elves will use some words that are elven without really understanding where they really come from. So it's a derogatory term, and that's all it is to them when they say shem, the short version, they call humans that even though the reasons for that word no longer exist. Dalish tend to live longer. We're not talking into Tolkienesque numbers of years here. The longer they've stayed away and their parents have stayed away from humanity, the longer they seem to live. There are exceptional individuals among them as well, Zathrian had lived for almost three hundred years. It's going to vary but for the city elves, the elves that live inside human cities, they don't have exceptional lifespans at all.

TUK: Any last questions? ...if there was one single thing you could change out of the story so far, what would it be?

DG: [thinks hard about this] [for a while] That's a tough question, just because like I said, from a writer's point of view, a developer's view, there's always things you regret, things that you wish you could have changed prior to the game going out or that got taken a way you didn't intend. There's also things we put in the game that we had fully intended to carry on in a particular way and then plans change, right? That's the nature of the beast, plans change all the time. The entire plot of Dragon Age 2 wasn't what I had imagined say two years ago or three years ago even. You end up having a curveball thrown at you and saying "Wow, if I had known then what I know now I would have done things a little differently." That kind of vision is something we leave for the forums. [TUK: laughter] It's very easy to say what you shoulda coulda woulda done and if you dwell too much on that as a developer you'll go insane. It'll make you very angry, the kinds of things you have to cut and compromise one. The narrative of a game is not the single most important element. Yes it is important but a lot of times we have to compromise on the story in ways that you wouldn't have to in places where you wouldn't have gameplay or choices or technical limitations. But insofar as one single thing if I went back would I want to do differently...you know, I would probably say the Dark Ritual. Not in terms of not doing it, I love the decision. I think there are some additional things that I think it required to have the impact that was needed. It had a very big impact for certain people, but for others there are more problematic elements. If you were in a romance with Morrigan...I know Aimo, a community artist who is great, I love her [TUK: So do we!]. Who doesn't? She's awesome. Her and I got into a conversation one time and she did a comic which had represented a scene that the Dark Ritual was supposed to have, that recognized the fact that Morrigan could have been in a romance with the player, or Alistair, pieces of those were still kept in the final dialogue but I think in the end there's a few changes I would really have liked to have made to that, which could possibly also have made our lives easier in taking it forward. But, you know, you roll with the punches as they come. The best we could do is I have a great group of writers here, right now I have four writers--Jennifer's out on maternity leave, so that's Mary, Cheryl, Luke, and we have a new writer, Tanya. It's funny, some of the other teams call us the Estrogen Brigade simply because we have more girls than guys. Which I think is totally the best thing, because you really can't get away from having some different perspectives. I think it shows in Dragon Age, I think we have a bit more of a female outlook in the sensibilities of how we approach the story, and I don't think that's a bad thing at all. I'm sure there are some people, on the internet especially, who would come up and say things like "Dragon Age is too oriented towards women" or too oriented towards gays, or what have you, and my answer to that is "Thank God there's something!" [TUK: general approval] I embrace the fact that Dragon Age embraces more than just hack and slash mentality--hack and slash is sort of derogatory in itself--it sees more things as important than just combat and glorifying the male power fantasy. There is more to fantasy than that. I have a great group of writers, so when we sit down and present these challenges, we have these brainstorm sessions that we come out of with these giant headaches, "What are we going to do about this problem?" Fortunately my writers are absolutely brilliant in that they love working in this world, they love writing these characters, they love torturing the fans.

TUK: Yeah, we both love and hate you.

DG: Mary's worse than I am!

TUK: It was a collective you!

DG: Okay, there was one time when I was writing Origins, and at that time Mary and Cheryl were other writers on the project and they were in another office and I ran into their office and I said, "Hey, I just wrote this thing, and I think what I'm going to do is if you break up with Alistair or he breaks up with you, if he dumps you at the Landsmeet out of duty, but he's still in love with you, if you take him into the final battle he will kill the Archdemon and die in your stead out of love." And Mary and Cheryl both had the same reaction, they went "MWAHAHAHHAA, we will hear the keening of the fangirls from Edmonton!" And I was like "Yeah!" So I guess there is an element of evil there!

TUK: We're still pulling shards of that dagger from our hearts!

DG: Occasionally on the forum someone expresses the sentiment "You know what I'd like...a normal romance." [TUK: Naaaaaah!] No you don't, no you don't, the drama is what makes it cool. And that's the tricky part, sometimes when fans say they want things we have to recognize what they only think they want, they probably wouldn't actually want that.

TUK: David, on that note thank you so much for these amazing games, and for spending all this time talking to us. We're so grateful.

TUK: We really appreciate it.

DG: Thank you for having the gathering! I hope it goes well for you next year if you plan on continuing it.

TUK: Hopefully yes! Hopefully we'll see you again in a year with more people and even more questions, and in our dreams with Dragon Age 3 either out or looming on the horizon. Don't say anything, we'll just hope.

DG: Very happy to see you all, very happy to see that there's people over in the UK who are big fans, it's very gratifying.

[general enthusiastic applause and more thanks on both sides]


Feel free to link this everywhere, and to cut and paste it if you wish, so long as you don't change the contents.

Thanks again to forest_rose for organizing a truly amazing weekend and setting all this up!

Cross-posted to People of Thedas in Dreamwidth.
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