Traipsing Through the Countryside Punching Dragons: How Banter and Music Work in Inquisition

avengers-parody-enWe wanted to clear up some of the confusion surrounding the banter and music systems in Dragon Age: Inquisition by giving you some insight into how they work. By now we’re sure many of you’ve seen the wide variety of supposed “fixes” out there, which range from a few simple steps to borderline blood magic. Hopefully detailing how these systems were designed to work will put a few minds at ease.

Before we get into the details, please know that we are continuing to look into player concerns on both fronts.

What follows is a quick guide to let you know what’s going on behind the scenes.

Banter

The way banter works in Inquisition is similar to what you encountered in previous Dragon Age games. As you play through missions, you will hear your party comment on the plot at specific points. However, when you are running around in the wilderness, there are additional kinds of banter at work.

We built Inquisition to be an expansive, immersive experience, giving players plenty of reasons to keep coming back, hour after hour. Part of this is the random banter that occurs in the wild. Your party may chat (or bicker) among themselves about all kinds of topics: getting to know each other, working through issues, or even just commenting on the surrounding scenery.

Behind the scenes, this is one of many ways that the game creates opportunities to experience procedural content at regular intervals. Sometimes this means combat encounters. Sometimes this means NPCs acting out ambient scenes or simply living in a space, as people will. More rarely, this means banter.

On average, you have an opportunity to hear banter every 10-15 minutes. But the frequency is largely left up to chance. It’s a lot like flips of a coin. Just because you flipped heads this time, or the previous five times, doesn’t mean you’ll flip tails next. Because of this, it’s perfectly normal to hear more or less banter at different points in the game.

The element of chance is also influenced by what you are doing and what is going on around you at any given time. How you play the game can and does affect how often you hear banter.

A number of things can interrupt banter, such as:

  • A conversation starting, both simple or fully cinematic
  • A level transition
  • Combat
  • Getting on a mount

There are also things that will prevent banter from firing entirely:

  • Riding a mount
  • Participating in a conversation
  • Being in combat or close proximity to enemies (if you are seeing red on your mini-map, you may be blocked from hearing banter)

There are also areas where this kind of banter will not fire at all. These include Skyhold, Haven, and Val Royeaux.

It’s also possible to exhaust all of the random banter for an area or for a certain set of party members. Additional banter can be unlocked by talking to your party members, playing through their personal plots, and advancing the main story.

Redcliffe_WM_01Music

Ambient music is unrelated to banter, but works in a similar fashion. We wanted each area to have its own unique character and flavor. When you are running around the Storm Coast, or the Hinterlands, or the Hissing Wastes, the ambient sound of animals, wind, and weather evoke a living, breathing world. In order to achieve this, we chose to use music more sparingly to occasionally enhance the mood. These brief music cues of about 10-30 seconds in length will fire on average every 1-3 minutes.

In areas like Skyhold and Val Royeaux, apart from bards or scripted plot-specific moments, there is likewise no music, as we wanted to make these spaces feel real.

You may have heard of a workaround players are using in order to get music playing in Val Royeaux and Skyhold. The only time that music should be playing in these places is during certain cinematic scenes, conversations, or at the war table. If music is playing outside of these situations, it may actually be a bug. We are currently investigating this issue.

When it comes to combat, whether or not you hear music is very much dependent on the threat you are facing. Fight a nug and all you hear is the wind—and your soul chipping away for harvesting a poor, defenseless creature. Fight a dragon, and the drums and horns kick in, underlining that what you’re doing is bad ass.

WarTable_WM_webAll of these systems together are intended to give you a more immersive environment in which to play, while rewarding you for advancing the central plots and engaging with your party members. For a game the size of Inquisition, it also gives you a reason to keep coming back, ensuring you continue to have a great time long after the main plot is done.

We are continuing to look into player concerns about the banter and music systems, and have reached out to several members of the community to learn more about their particular experiences. We’re also looking into how we might reduce any perceived disparity between what you and your friends are hearing.

We appreciate all of the feedback that’s been provided on this and will continue working to ensure your time in Thedas is as fun and rewarding as possible.

Building a Character: Cremisius “Krem” Aclassi

Krem

(Note: This article contains spoilers for the Iron Bull’s character arc up to his personal plot, but not including it. If you’ve already had drinks with the Bull’s Chargers, nothing in here should be spoiled for you.)

The Idea
A couple years ago, BioWare did a BioWare Base panel on LGBTQ representation in our games at PAX. We heard concerns, praise, and a lot of heartfelt discussion about how we present characters from the LGBTQ community. One of the most repeated requests was for representation of transgender and/or genderqueer characters in a way that did not make them either a monster or a joke. When the panel was over, some of us kicked around ideas about what we could do.

Talking over drinks at the bar later, we hit two major challenges. First, any conversation about the subject had to come up naturally in-game. A minor character like a shopkeeper would have no reason to explain that she is trans, so either the conversation would never come up or it would come up because her voice was clearly masculine, at which point it would look like a joke to most players, no matter how we tried to write it. Second, the character had to serve a purpose beyond “being there to be a genderqueer person.” Every character in our game serves a purpose—reinforcing the theme of a plot, character, or area—and we do not have the budget for someone who is just there to tick off a box.

As we discussed ideas, the possibility came up of Iron Bull’s lieutenant being such a character. Bull needed a lieutenant. He’s a mercenary commander, and even if we didn’t have the memory budget to have his entire company around all the time, I needed to be able to remind players that Bull has a history of command. In addition, Bull’s loyalty is pulled between life under the Qun and a life of freedom, and I needed a character on each side who could represent that pull.

Cremisius “Krem” Aclassi met both challenges. His conversation could come up naturally, along with discussions of life as a mercenary, and he could serve a vital role in the story as a grounding force who would remind the player that Bull is more than just hired muscle. Krem’s status as a trans man, rather than being just tacked on, could emphasize Bull’s character by opening up discussions of Qunari gender roles.

The Execution
Once we had decided what we wanted to do, we tackled the concept of Krem with other departments to figure out how to do it correctly. In doing so, we saw how much of our game’s engine was based on set gender assignments, from voice to face to animation set to localization plan for foreign languages. Every single department stepped up enthusiastically to make sure that Krem was created with respect. Colleen Perman gave Krem his fantastic face using the character art team’s head-morph system, John Epler nailed his animation and body language, Caroline Livingstone and Jennifer Hale found a great voice for a trans man in a world without access to transitional procedures, and Melanie Fleming made absolutely certain that Krem was gendered appropriately in all languages.

On the writing side, I wrote Krem as best I could, and the editing team looked at every line and cleaned up dialogue and paraphrases that could give the wrong impression. I then passed him to two friends in the GQ community… at which point they showed me where I was absolutely messing things up and gave me constructive feedback on how to improve. In the first draft, Bull was the one who brought up Krem’s binding as a friendly joke. My friends pointed out how incredibly hurtful such a callout was for many trans people in real life (“Hey, by the way, you’re actually a woman, just wanted to remind you!”) and that it made Bull into an incredibly offensive jerk. This was not at all what I wanted—people playing now will note that Bull and Krem give each other grief about little things all the time, but never attack truly sore spots—and I rewrote the scene so that Krem is the one who brings it up first. This makes it clear that Krem is comfortable discussing being trans, and the player will not be offending Krem by asking questions about it.

In the investigate hub where you can ask Krem about his past in Tevinter, the first draft had him deserting after fighting off someone who discovered his secret and tried to assault him. My friends noted that this played directly into the sad “attacked trans person” cliché, and while it was plausible, it was an ugly event that could well trigger trans people who have experienced harassment in real life. The goal was for Krem to be a positive character who was living his life happily now, and I revised his departure from Tevinter accordingly.

(Very few writers enjoy talking about things they messed up in their first drafts, and I am no exception. That said, I am hugely grateful to my friends for helping me avoid some obvious-in-retrospect mistakes. Their help was amazing, and any stuff that still bothers people is on me and me alone.)

The Reception
We are all proud to have brought Krem to life in the game, and seeing people in the genderqueer community respond positively to him has been wonderful. We are also listening to feedback on how we can improve with characters in the future. (For example, some trans folks feel I wrote the player choices to be too clueless or uninformed, and wished for options to speak from more personal experience. I’ve heard the feedback, and I intend to do better next time.) It would be a lie to say that this was as easy as creating any other human character—it was uncharted territory for all of us on both the technical and the artistic side—but it was worth the extra effort. The world of Dragon Age has room for people of all backgrounds and identities, and it was a pleasure to show that in one more way.

The Dragon Egg Hunt’s Fateful Conclusion

Over the past year, you, the brave Scouts of the Inquisition, have worked hard to stop dragon eggs from falling into the wrong hands. You completed tasks that tested your patience, dexterity, and wit, all to protect Thedas from a growing evil that lurks in the shadows. But what is the nature of that threat?

To find out, you visited a Rivaini seer. She consulted the spirits and drew from a tarot deck. The dragon eggs, she said, could be used for a dark ritual by a mysterious villain. Before you she lays cards for 12 agents of the Inquisition, telling you that this villain holds the same powers of one of the heroes you know and trust. The answer is in the cards!

Inquisition Scouts, this is your penultimate challenge. Use these tarot cards to unlock the final secrets of the Dragon Age Egg Hunt.

Conclusion-strip-1Conclusion-strip-2 Conclusion-strip-3

But wait: there is one last step. Now that you’ve solved those three answers, you can use all of your previous answers to find out what you deserve for protecting the world. In case you missed some of our earlier puzzles, you can find the solutions for all of them below. However, to protect these secrets from prying eyes, we have encoded the answers.

The answers so far:

Nevarra: LRWFQA

Dwarves: NGQCW

Circle of Magi: WGQNRWLFACGQ

Qunari: MLFPGQ

Antiva: NORBB

Tevinter: NALFQPBROGBM

Ferelden: AEQCWN

Chantry: GLFWBRN

Starkhaven: WGEQAN WFBGLCRN

Elves: AGX

Orlais: YFLGQ

Templars: XLGYFACGQ

Anderfels: LENR

Seekers of Truth: FLMRQA

Kirkwall: FMSRQAELRLN

Grey Wardens: CQPGA

Rivain: NALCSR

Inquisition: CQSRNACPFAGL

Adding in the three answers to the seer’s puzzle, you should be able to get seven letters. Unscramble them to discover what the Inquisition will give you for your efforts.

Submit your answers to dragonegghunt@bioware.com for a chance to win a Dragon Age prize pack.

From all of us here at BioWare and Lone Shark Games, thanks for playing the Dragon Egg Hunt this past year. We hope you enjoy Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Inside the Temple of Dragons with Composer Trevor Morris

Enter the iconic Ocean Way Studios in Nashville, where award-winning composer, Trevor Morris, works with strings, brass, and choir to bring the music of Dragon Age: Inquisition to life. Trevor shares his process, inspiration, and what it’s like to create a brand new voice for an established franchise.
Listen to the main theme for Dragon Age: Inquisition here.

This video was first shown to subscribers of the Dragon Age Newsletter. If you’d like to be the first to see tips, tricks, and behind the scenes material from Dragon Age: Inquisition, you can sign up here.

The Last Court is Now Available

ThelastcourtAvailable now in the Dragon Age Keep, The Last Court is a very Failbettery game of lordship where you play as the ruler of Serault, an eclectic fiefdom at the farthest end of Orlais. As the Huntress or Scholar, you’ll guide the realm through its most crucial period in its history.

Will its ancient Shame be forgotten? Will Serault fall into obscurity?

Manage the affairs of your court. Choose a lover, a counselor, a bodyguard, and an accomplice. With stories to explore and secrets to unravel, you’ll meet a host of new characters and encounter a few familiar faces in The Last Court.

This free text-driven, story-rich game is a great way to satisfy your Dragon Age cravings ahead of the release of Inquisition. The Keep will record the choices and decisions you make in The Last Court, but don’t worry: it won’t have an impact on your story in Dragon Age: Inquisition and is entirely optional. (That being said, we totally suggest you play it because it’s incredibly fun.)

Our partners at Failbetter are known for their craftsmanship and unique gameplay, and we’re confident that fans of BioWare and Dragon Age will appreciate what they’ve accomplished. The Last Court is free to play and designed so that all players can experience it without hitting a paywall. If you want to speed up time in the game or gain additional actions, you can purchase Dawn, the in-game currency. However, purchasing Dawn is not required to complete the game or see all of the content. If you want to see everything, you might need multiple playthroughs. Each one takes an average of 7 days to complete.

The Last Court works best on a desktop computer with a modern browser and is accessible only through logging into the Dragon Age Keep.