Author Archives: davidhulegaard

Exploring the Dales’ Exalted Plains

Within the Dales, the Exalted Plains is a massive stretch of land ravaged by civil war and ripe for exploration in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Each distinct area of the Exalted Plains has its own complex ecosystem, creating the Plains’ physical space in the game was no easy task.

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“The first thing we [did] was try to portray the civil war and the impact it’s having on the environment and the people of that region,” says senior environment artist Andrew Farrell. “In these spaces, we try to provide opportunities for the Inquisition to come in and make its mark on the area. Then the people there rally around that.”

The Inquisition arrives at the Exalted Plains during a ceasefire between two armies at war. The bodies of fallen soldiers mysteriously rose from the dead and have driven the armies back to their respective castles in retreat.

As this is the Dales, one might wonder: what’s become of the Dalish elves?

“They’ve retreated into an area with more security away from all the fighting,” explains Farrell. “Of course, they’ve got a few problems of their own.”

The Crow Fens is one section of the Exalted Plains. In contrast to the sprawling hills elsewhere in the area, the Fens is claustrophobic, creating tension as you wonder what lies in wait for you around the next corner.  According to Farrell, the Fens was the perfect playground for his imagination to run wild.

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Using the power of the Frostbite 3 game engine and next-generation technology, utilizing water in levels is one of the achievements the team is most proud of.

“Interactive water is one of the key things we’ve added to next-gen,” says lead environment artist Ben McGrath. “It’s got realistic reflections, and also realistically ripples and splashes as you walk through it.”

This is all made possible by a technology advancement known as “displacement mapping”. McGrath describes the benefits it adds to the game:

“Displacement mapping adds a new level of realism to the environment. Normal maps [in previous-gen technology] brought great detail to surfaces, but displacement mapping actually pushes those details out so you can see them in the silhouette. The place where it’s probably the most noticeable is on terrain. Pebbles, sand ripples, cobblestones, and other details all pop out from the terrain and make it far more detailed than ever before.”

Once an area is built, its ecosystem brings it to life. While exploring the Exalted Plains, you’re likely to see the halla, birds, and wolves that have made it home. Make your way into the Crow Fens, and you’ll find yourself amidst drakes, dragonlings, and dragonkin.

Don’t let the looming threat of danger deter you from adventuring, however.

“Get off the beaten path!” says Farrell. “Just like exploring in real life, look under all the rocks, under all the bridges, and in all dark corners of the map. Take the path less-traveled and you might something interesting… or surprising.”

As expansive as the Exalted Plains is, Farrell and McGrath agree that you shouldn’t worry too much about missing anything, because you can return to it at any time.

“You won’t be locked out of an area,” Farrell says. “We’ve got a lot of space, so you definitely don’t need to try and see everything on your first playthrough.”

Dragon Age: Inquisition releases this fall on PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.

Vivienne: Writing an Imperial Enchanter

A word about Vivienne from writer Mary Kirby:

“Vivienne was fun to write because she let me play around with different ways for a character to be powerful. Any mage can destroy their enemies with fire and ice, but Vivienne can rip her opponents apart verbally, politically, socially—and make ice seem like the gentlest option. She takes great pride in her work, and her interactions with a certain unnamed Inquisition mage can be a little… explosive. In a good way. Mostly.”

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My dear Ambassador,

I don’t believe we’ve met, so allow me to introduce myself. I am First Enchanter Vivienne, Enchanter to the Imperial Court of Orlais, personal advisor to the Empress.

A rumor has reached my ears that you plan on attending the salon held at the duke’s summer estate three weeks hence. I’m certain this rumor must be a scandalous falsehood, Ambassador, as neither you nor anyone else from the Nevarran embassy has been issued an invitation. As host of the party, I trust you did not intend to crash it like some unwashed workman drunk on three tankards of ale and a dare.

I know you are only seventy-third in line for the Nevarran throne, but that is hardly so lowly a position as to relegate you to trailing after Comtesse Montbelliard in the hope that she might give your suit a moment’s thought. She won’t, my dear. She only likes men with self-respect. Perhaps you might sober up and acquire some?

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, Ambassador, that the world has become a dangerous place. Wars rage across the continent, the sky is torn open, and many say the end of the world is upon us. During such chaotic times, it behooves those of us in power to aid in the restoration of peace and the establishment of order. Lives have already been lost; should we not save those we can? In that spirit, I give you this friendly warning: I am not to be trifled with. I would not be in a rush to hasten my own demise if I were you, darling. If the demons have their way, it will come soon enough.

Most sincerely,

Madame de Fer

Creating an Imperial Enchanter

To bring a Dragon Age: Inquisition character to life requires hard work and iteration from a team of experts. After several initial stages of visualization, the character is refined through a collaborative process until the details are just right.

With our continued spotlight on Vivienne this month, we checked in with the team behind her creation.

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“Vivienne was a truly great character to build,” says senior artist Rion Swanson. “I was hooked from the very beginning when I saw the first concept.”

Swanson credits the work of BioWare’s concept artists as a key component to locking down Vivienne’s final design. In particular, he recalls a lot of back-and-forth to ensure that her character met the high-quality standards of the studio.

“In the end, I think we achieved quite a dramatic look for this strong new character,” Swanson says. “The combination of sleek and powerful shapes with the ornate gold and fine fabrics gives Vivienne a pretty unique appearance.”

With Vivienne’s work complete, what does Swanson think about setting her loose on the world of Thedas?

“Watching her move through the world with flowing fabric and using her awesome mage abilities is a real nice counterbalance to some of the other heavily armored characters in your party. Enjoy!”

Learn more about Vivienne here.

Dragon Age: Inquisition releases this fall on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC.

International Women’s Day 2014

International Women’s Day is celebrated across the world on March 8th. The date is observed in many different ways, but at its core, it’s an occasion to show appreciation and respect to women, as well as honor their achievements.

To celebrate, we asked a few female BioWarians to share their favorite moments from 2013 and offer suggestions for women looking to break into the industry.

Happy International Women’s Day from all of us at BioWare!

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[BW]: What was your personal highlight of 2013?

[Melanie Fleming, Development Manager]: My highlight was going on the Internet one night and seeing this article written by a teacher friend of mine. That was a surprise and pretty nice! I personally love business-to-school outreach programs like this, and one of the things I love most about BioWare is that our company also does a lot with local elementary schools, as well as the University of Alberta, Grant MacEwan, and the Telus World of Science computer summer camps.

[Melanie Faulknor, Associate Producer]: Attending Gamescom for Dragon Age: Inquisition to meet with press and fans. It was my first opportunity to be at a fan event, and it was such an overwhelmingly positive experience. Seeing firsthand how much our fans love our stories and characters is one of the highlights of my BioWare experience so far.

[Varden Schwake, Senior Tester]: In 2013, I attended my first comic expo/convention. The experience was amazing and very rewarding! It was an honour to meet and greet the multitude of fans, to interact with the people we do it all for, to hear their stories, and how our stories have changed their lives. Signing posters and books, giving away swag, and answering questions left me feeling somewhat like a celebrity. I was mesmerized by the fantastical cosplay. The level of craftsmanship, ingenuity, and talent was astounding!

[Karin Weekes, Lead Editor]: The thing I’ve been most proud of this past year is the work of our Editing team. With the help of our Design Department leaders, our small-but-mighty squad of editors reorganized into a centralized cross-studio group at the beginning of the year. Now, not only do we edit and organize in-game text and support our VO and Localization teams, we also formally support a variety of in-house, marketing, communications, and external partner teams.

BioWare editors have to be flexible, proactive, and able to keep a dozen plates spinning while working on multiple games and projects simultaneously. It’s such a gratifying honor to work with Ben Gelinas, Cameron Harris, and Cori May as they slay the evil comma splices and defend the complex halls of BioWare IP.

[BW]: What advice would you give to other women looking to work within the video game industry?

[Schwake]: I would advise any young woman who is passionate about a career in the gaming industry to be aware that there are a plethora of disciplines involved in the creation and distribution of a game, such as Art, Writing, Programming, Design, Audio, Production, and Quality Assurance. There are also many different paths that can be travelled to reach the goal of working in this exciting field, whether that be higher education, sheer determination, or the merits of raw talent. Chase your dreams and own your future!

[Weekes]: Constantly hone your skills and keep being really good at what you do—your craft is more important than anything else. Work to be a good communicator and listener. Connect with other women in the industry for support and problem solving. If game development is your passion, you deserve to be here, and there is a place for you. If someone tells you otherwise, they’re wrong.

[Fleming]: We live in times where corporations must be something more than a place for people to work or an entity that sells products. We have a responsibility to respond not only to how the world is now, but also show what we want the world to be like in the future.

This is especially true of women in STEM fields or the video game industry, where it is true we are a scarce resource, and only through education and connection with others will we overcome that.

[Faulknor]: I work with some of the most talented people in the industry, and that includes women who are Level Designers, Cinematic Designers, Directors, Editors, Writers, Programmers, and Producers. Tons of our fans are women too. Women in the industry provide a very valuable perspective, so don’t let anything stop you from pursuing a career in games if it’s something you love.

Valentine’s Day: I Was Lost Without You

Imagine that you’re sprinting across Firebase White during a Mass Effect 3 multiplayer session. Wave after wave of Reapers fall at the hands of your friends and an unknown N7 Slayer. Now imagine that several months later, you’re walking down the aisle, about to marry the person behind that N7 Slayer. For Jameela Cameron, that’s exactly what happened.

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Jameela still clearly recalls the night of April 13, 2012. She received an invitation to play Mass Effect 3 with her friends Sean and Estevan, but wasn’t really in the mood. After some consideration, she decided to join them.

A couple of games later, another player joined their session: Tyler, a mutual friend of Sean and Estevan. “I was really quiet at first,” Jameela remembers. “I figured he’s probably a friend of theirs, but I didn’t want to talk.”

Tyler, on the other hand, had no problem breaking the ice. After engaging in a deep discussion about Mass Effect lore with the group, Tyler joked about their having nothing better to do on a Friday night and mused, “Man, we are, like, undateable.”

Little did he know that it was his sense of humor that first attracted Jameela. “I liked the fact that he could make fun of himself,” she says. “He was obviously smart, and he was very witty.”

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Picking up on the brewing chemistry between his two friends, Estevan seized the opportunity to play matchmaker in between waves of Geth Primes and Rocket Troopers. He encouraged Jameela to connect with Tyler through Facebook and sent them each text messages of praise about the other.

The two bonded quickly, and it wasn’t long before Jameela made the first move. She started signaling her interest by always being the first to revive him after he fell in battle, a luxury she did not extend to her other teammates. Eventually, she came right out and told him he was “gorgeous.”

“I don’t know what came over me that night,” she laughed. “That is not how I normally work.”

The two played until the sun came up the next morning, leading to a discussion about their options. A month later, Tyler and Jameela met in person and knew they wanted to be together. Unfortunately, a Harbinger-sized roadblock stood in their path: over 2,000 miles of distance.

As luck would have it, plans were already in motion for Tyler to move back to Michigan, a six-and-a-half hour drive from Jameela’s hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In the meantime, overcoming time-zone differences and conflicting schedules put a lot of pressure on the young couple. They combatted those challenges with Skype video chats, playing co-op games, and texting.

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Tyler proposed to Jameela on June 22, 2012, and they set a wedding date of October 26—news that their friend Sean took to PAX Prime later that summer. While visiting the BioWare Base, Sean met lead editor Karin Weekes and shared the couple’s story.

“Sean is the nicest person, and I was so touched that he took the time to come and talk with me and tell me Tyler and Jameela’s engagement story,” Karin said. “It was the coolest feeling to have been a tiny part of the stage for the early part of their relationship (plus, I’m a complete sucker for weddings). When Sean told me their favorite characters were Garrus and Tali, I thought, ‘OK, we must have a screenshot of the Tali/Garrus hookup scene somewhere…’ Back at the studio, I tracked one down and got it printed out—the team loved the story, and everyone was really pleased to sign and send the poster to Tyler and Jameela (through Sean, the best best man ever!) for their big day!”

The gift arrived at their hotel just in time for the wedding and now hangs above the TV in their living room.

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Twenty of their closest friends and family attended the wedding that fall. Jameela walked down the aisle to Sam Hulick’s “I Was Lost Without You” (she also had the song title engraved on Tyler’s wedding ring as a surprise). For the reading of vows, they selected the accompaniment of “I’m Proud of You,” also written by Sam for the Mass Effect 3 soundtrack.

In preparation for PAX Prime in 2013, the couple got Mass Effect tattoos, paying homage to how the series had affected their lives. For Tyler, Garrus was an obvious choice. “In the Mass Effect games, I always took Garrus with me in my party,” he said. “He was a symbol of true loyalty and friendship.”

Jameela identified with Tali’s loyalty to her father and her people, even in times of disagreement. She also appreciated the quarian’s “nerdy” side, as she refers to it. “She’s cool. She can handle her own,” Jameela said of Tali. “She’s extremely smart and honorable, and that always stuck with me.”

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Nearly two years have passed since they first met, but Tyler and Jameela still make time to play Mass Effect 3 multiplayer together. In fact, they plan to celebrate the anniversary of their introduction by getting the original group back together, a tradition they hope to continue every year in addition to their wedding anniversary.

“We’ll probably celebrate both of those dates forever,” says Tyler. “Two anniversaries.”