Understanding Video Games

Over the last several months, BioWare has been working with the University of Alberta to help create a massive open online course. Covering topics ranging from mechanics and story to sex and culture, Understanding Video Games explores the impact of games on society.

The 11-lesson course is available online and is free to anyone (there is an associated fee if you want to write exams and receive credit from your institution). The course features interviews and discussions with several BioWare developers, including Senior Creative Director Preston Watamaniuk, Editor Karin Weekes, and Artist Matt Rhodes.

Each lesson is broken up into a series of short interactive video modules, accompanied by readings and quiz components. No background is required; the course teaches the terminology and theoretical framework necessary for discussing and interpreting games.
Understanding Video Games launches September 3, 2014.

We’re proud to have been a part of this course, and to continue working with UAlberta to foster learning and understanding around video games.

Dragon Age: Inquisition Update

From Mark Darrah, Executive Producer of Dragon Age: Inquisition

As you may have heard, we’re holding back the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition until November 18, 2014. We appreciate the enormous support we’ve received from all of you to get to this point, and while this extra few weeks may not seem like a lot, I know the game you’ll play will be all the better for it.

Since we began working on Dragon Age: Inquisition almost four years ago, our goal was to create the best Dragon Age experience ever. It was that goal that motivated many of our decisions: moving to Frostbite, bringing race choice and customization back, improving tactical camera, building a team of characters whose relationships evolve based on your actions, and most importantly, crafting an epic, nation-spanning story that both draws upon past games and takes you to many new places in the realm of Thedas.

I’m privileged to be a part of a team that has been working very hard to surpass every measure they’ve set for themselves. That has meant completing huge amounts of game content, fixing bugs both big and small, and improving the overall experience. This last bit of time is about polishing the experience we want you to see. Ensuring that our open spaces are as engaging as possible. Strengthening the emotional impact of the Hero’s choices. And ensuring the experience you get is the best it can be in the platform you choose to play on.

Thank you again for your patience and support!

Mark

All a stir for Alistair

Steve Valentine, the voice of Alistair, isn’t just the king of Ferelden—he’s the king of our hearts. His smooth accent is unmistakable, which is probably why so many Dragon Age fans recognize him on sound alone.
He’s had nothing but positive interactions with our fans at conventions and in public—that is, until he met our community manager, Jessica Merizan.
Swooning, it turns out, is also bad.

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.

The Exalted Plains

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The Exalted Plains of the Dales are characterized by equal measures of beauty and strife. It was here, centuries ago, that the elven nation met its bitter end. On these fields, the holdouts of the elven army faced the forces of the human Chantry and died, defending their promised land to the last breath. This legacy of conflict has endured, and battle once again rages in the Dales.

The Exalted Plains are now a contested battleground in the Orlesian civil war, and soldiers fight and die here in vast numbers. As the boundaries of reality weaken across Thedas, the memory of injustices past and present draws the attention of restless spirits who rise to possess the dead and stalk the living across the blood-steeped earth.