BLOG: The Visuals of Thedas

The Visuals of Thedas

By Dragon Age concept artist Nick Thornborrow (@Nthornborrow)

“Let’s have Morrigan bringing the fire.”

That was the direction I got from my art director after he dug up a painting that I’d done years ago. When I’d done it, I wasn’t even on the Dragon Age team and had some downtime between projects to play around a bit with some illustrations. I was inspired by a description of magic in the DA universe being this dangerous and unwieldy thing, and I tried to capture that in a painting of a mage conducting fire with reckless power. Swirls of ash and flame threaten to engulf him even as the hem of his cloak ignites. It turned out pretty cool. But I moved on to a new project, and that painting got tucked away.

That is, tucked away until we started working on the lore book and we were planning cover ideas. When my art director found this old painting, it felt like the right fit for the cover—except that the mage wasn’t anyone in particular. We both knew we wanted Morrigan and Flemeth to be featured on the cover of the book, so that’s how this old painting I’d done just for kicks got recast and reincarnated as the cover illustration for Dragon Age: The World of Thedas – Volume 1.

Concept artists try to bring an entire world to life, expanding beyond the scope of any one game. A lot of the art we do never really sees the light of day. One of the cool things about working on The World of Thedas was getting to sift through the thousands of images that have been produced over the years, and to finally have a reason to showcase some locations that you’ve heard of but never actually seen.

You might recognize some of the frescoes that decorate the start of each chapter from the load screens and exposition sequences in Dragon Age II. The frescoes are cool because they’re an example of in-world artwork that help to make the cultures of Thedas feel vital and alive. They were also something nice to look at while the game loads. This one of Anders never actually showed up in-game, but we used it for the chapter about magic.

This was the final concept for the wyverns that appear in Dragon Age II: Mark of the Assassin. We strive for accurate anatomical detail in our creatures, consistent cultural flourishes in our costumes, and architecture and specificity of character in our followers and NPCs. In other words, we’re going for believability, even at the concept stage. The bestiary (along with the rest of the book) is illustrated with 2D concept art rather than using 3D screenshots, and this particular concept is a great example of the kind of research that goes into shaping the visuals of Dragon Age.

Dragon Age: The World of Thedas Volume 1 is available on April 17, 2013 from Dark Horse Comics and fine retailers.

BLOG: The World of Thedas

The World of Thedas

By Dragon Age editor Ben Gelinas (@bengelinas)

There’s deep, and there’s Dragon Age lore deep.

When I started work as a dialog and story editor on Dragon Age a couple years ago, one of my first tasks was to take some seven years of evolving lore and build a single point of reference that wasn’t David Gaider’s brain.

The Dragon Age team is building a world in Thedas that’s so rich it’s downright alive. There are hundreds of places, hundreds of characters, and oh so many concepts—all with meat on their bones.

The task to collect it all seemed a far cry from my old job as a newspaper crime reporter. Weirdly, though, I ended up using a lot of the same skills. I treated Thedas like a real world, ever mindful of its rules, limits, and established facts. Where questions appeared, I sought answers from creators like David and the other writers and artists.

With fiction, though, when something’s missing, we gotta make it up.

Combined with background from every game, novel, and external product, I first built an internal lore guide—which currently sits at around 425,000 words and growing.

This guide formed the backbone for the upcoming Dragon Age: The World of Thedas – Volume 1.

Our new lore book offers a detailed look at Dragon Age from an in-world, encyclopedic perspective. We designed it to appeal to Dragon Age vets while still offering a solid introduction to those diving into the world for the first time.

One of the most exciting features is new in-world writing from a small army of Dragon Age writers and editors, including David Gaider, Luke Kristjanson, Mary Kirby, Sheryl Chee, Karin Weekes, Jo Berry, and Sylvia Feketekuty. Together, we’ve penned dozens of brand new codex entries from familiar characters like Varric and the ever-prolific Brother Genitivi, which dig deeper on topics as wide-ranging as griffons and Kal-Sharok to sexuality and sacrifice.

We take readers to every nation, fleshing out what life’s like in such far-flung reaches as Par Vollen and Seheron. A revised map charts these points, and clarifies some things to best reflect the world as it continues to be written. Weisshaupt’s on the right side of the Hunterhorns now, people. And it’s glorious.

Multiple entry points allow readers to browse the book or digest it cover-to-cover. An extended timeline of recorded history spans all chapters, charting hundreds of the most important moments in the tumultuous history of Thedas. Sidebars also pop up to provide peeks into the stranger parts of Thedosian life. (My favorite discusses fashion trends.)

Hundreds of pieces of concept art are provided by our many talented artists, as well as great external partner artists like Green Ronin’s Tyshan Carey. My partner-in-crime, concept artist Nick Thornborrow, will talk more about the pictures in a second blog post.

While I personally fact-checked the hell out of this thing, I also had multiple team members do close reads to make doubly sure we weren’t breaking canon or contradicting anything that’s appeared previously. As thorough as we were, a couple things always slip past with a project of this scope. I just noticed that the Commander of the Grey is cited as the leader of the Warden Order in the glossary, for instance. It’s obviously the First Warden—a fact stated correctly in the main text. These things will keep me up at night for months, I assure you.

Ultimately, Dragon Age: The World of Thedas is the sum of its parts. Creating Thedas is a highly collaborative process and this book could not have been possible without the contributions of countless writers, editors, artists, and other designers. It’s a love letter to fans of the complex, living world the talented Dragon Age team continues to develop. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed making it.

If you’re in Boston for PAX East this year, drop by the BioWare booth. Ben Gelinas and Nick Thornborrow will be there, answering questions and offering a preview of the book. Feel free to bring your writing or art questions, too; they’re always happy to talk shop.

Dragon Age: The World of Thedas Volume 1 is available on April 17, 2013 from Dark Horse Comics and fine retailers.

Mass Effect Evolution #2 Preview

by Evil Chris Priestly

Our friends at Dark Horse Comics have given us both cover images and the first 6 pages of issue #2 of Mass Effect Evolution. This is the new Mass Effect comic that gives you a look into one of Mass Effect 2’s most memorable characters, the Illusive Man. Now in Issue #2 another of Mass Effect’s memorable characters returns, Saren.

Check out the cover images illustrated by artists Massimo Carnivale and Joe Quinones. The story is written by Mass Effect 2 & 3 Lead Writer Mac Walters and teh comic is illustrated by Omar Francia. Issue #1 is on sale now and Issue #2 arrives at comic sops and other fine retailers on February 16.

Mass Effect & Dark Horse Comics

by Evil Chris Priestly

Hello Mass Effect and comic book fans.

This is a big week for Mass Effect fans as both issue #1 of the new Mass Effect comic Mass Effect Evolution and Mass Effect 2 on the PlayStation 3 have launched at fine retailers. Both the new Mass Effect comic and Mass Effect 2 on PS3 have a cool Dark Horse Comics tie in. The first should be obvious. Dark Horse Comics was the publisher of the first Mass Effect comic, Mass Effect Redemption, and they are also the publisher for the new comic. The second tie in is equally cool. To help ME2 on PS3 players understand the story and choices from Mass Effect 1 (which is not available on PS3), the fine folks at Dark Horse helped us create an interactive motion comic that allows PS3 players to experience the story and make the important choices from Mass Effect 1 before they play Mass Effect 2.

To help folks understand better the story of Mass Effect, how the interactive motion comic works and what it is like to work with Dark Horse, I asked Mass Effect 2 & 3 Lead Writer Mac Walters to spend some time answering questions. Mac is not only the Lead Writer here at BioWare, he is also the writer of both of Mass Effect Redemption and Mass Effect Evolution for Dark Horse.  Mac talks about the story from Mass Effect 1 and 2, he explains how the interactive motion comic works and he talks about working creating comics with Dark Horse comics. He even drops a subtle hint about how Mass Effect Evolution and Mass Effect 3 interact.

So check out the new BioWare Podcast and, if you have not yet already done so, head out and pick up a copy of Mass Effect Evolution #1 now available at fine comic book stores and online.

If you enjoy the Mass Effect comics as much as I do, you should also check out a new blog entry over at Dark Horse from the comic’s editor Dave Marshall. Not only is it cool, it also contains some sketches from the comic’s artist Omar Francia. It’s a great read, so check it out here.

Listen to the new BioWare Podcast

Mass Effect: Evolution Preview

by Evil Chris Priestly

BioWare and the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics have teamed up again to bring you another 4 issue comic book mini-series set in the Mass Effect Universe, Mass Effect Evolution.

In Mass Effect Evolution, Mass Effect 2 & 3 Lead Writer Mac Walters reveals the origin of one of Mass Effect 2’s most intriguing characters, The Illusive Man. Mac is again joined by co-writer John Jackson Miller (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic) and artist Omar Francia (Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2).The covers are done by Massimo Carnivale (Y: The Last Man) and by Joe Quinones (Star Wars Knight Errant).

Mass Effect Evolution chronicles humanity’s first deadly days on the galactic stage and uncovers the pivotal role The Illusive Man played in it all! Available only in comics, this essential piece of Mass Effect canon offers new insights for existing fans, while the focus on humanity’s first steps into the wider Mass Effect universe provides a riveting story of action and intrigue.

Check with your local comic shops or bookstores to pick up a copy or order online. And, for the first time, you can order digital copies of Mass Effect Evolution through the Dark Horse Digital Comics program or through the Dark Horse brand bookshelf app on iTunes. This means if you are not near a comic book shop, or live overseas away from retailers, you can still get your digital copies of Mass Effect Evolution and learn the secrets of The Illusive Man.

Check out the below 7 page preview of Mass Effect Evolution. Page 1 is the cover of issue #1 by Massimo Carnivale. Page 2 is the alternative cover to issue #1 done by Joe Quinones.