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Talking IP With BioWare's MDs

For nearly 15 years Canadian development house BioWare has been releasing some of the most refreshing and innovation RPGs on the market. Next week the company releases its latest opus, Mass Effect 2. We figured now was the perfect time to question BioWare founder’s Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk about the company’s history, their philosophy behind shaping a game’s story, and the possibility of Mass Effect games after the trilogy.

BioWare is a strong company name. People usually know what they’re getting into when the buy a BioWare game. How did you guys go about building up your brand?

Ray Muzyka & Greg Zeschuk: We’ve thought about branding in a few different ways over the past couple decades. First, with regard to BioWare’s studio brand, and going forward our brands within the RPG/MMO Group at EA, we’ve always strived to be polite and humble, yet aggressive and assertive in ensuring that the BioWare brand was associated with the quality games our teams work so hard to deliver. In our early years, before people had heard of BioWare, we often had to email press to ask for preview and review corrections in order to make sure our team was getting credit. There was never any malicious intent on anyone’s part, but 15 to 20 years ago the publishing companies were consistently the big name brands, and often got credit for games developed externally by companies just like ours. We were just doing our part to help educate people. After about five to 10 years of this, most of the press folks finally got the idea. From that point on generally most press remembered to cite BioWare as the developer on our games.

Greg Zeschuk Ray Muzyka

It’s the point of a sequel to evolve past previous entries, but do you find it hard to take a series and have it continue to grow while still staying true to the original thesis?

We try to be very consistent and focused in our goals for all of our games, and one of the most important goals for a sequel is to understand what made the original game special and make sure that’s not removed or destroyed in the sequel – even as you try to improve what didn’t work that well. Figuring out which is which can be very challenging. Yet, even if you make a lot of changes you need to ensure you don’t break the experience. If your first game is commercially successful it usually makes sense to make an evolutionary game rather than a revolutionary game. We usually finish a game with some ideas and concepts on where it could go in the future, and a sequel allows us to pursue those objectives.

We’ve done multiple expansion packs and assisted on engine license project sequels developed by other developers, but Mass Effect 2 is the first sequel we’ve done ourselves since Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn, and we’ve been really excited about the opportunity to take a great game like the original Mass Effect and build something even more special in the sequel. We think we’ve managed to ensure that the spirit of the original is maintained. Mass Effect 2, like its predecessor, has great characters and emotionally engaging narrative, but it also has many greatly improved features – like the intensity of the action-shooter experience, the exploration and how well the uncharted worlds are integrated, the overall user interface, and many technical improvements like smoother texture loads and faster level loading.

You guys have always talked about Mass Effect being a trilogy, but do you think you’ll continue the series in some fashion even after this arc is finished?

Given the success of the original Mass Effect and the incredible anticipation for Mass Effect 2 it seems like a very safe bet that games set in the world of Mass Effect will be around for a while. Of course, we’re currently focused on successfully completing the trilogy (and, no real secret here, but the Mass Effect team has already planed out the next sequel in detail and has already starting to work on it) but we’re also starting to throw around ideas for future games in the Mass Effect universe.

How do you approaching maintaining an IP’s integrity when someone else is working on your property? Such as when Obsidian worked on the sequel to KOTOR, or when another writer comes on board to work on a novel for one of your IPs?

The easiest way to manage the process is a very clear, explicitly defined set of mutual goals, and frequent communication. We also have fairly expansive IP bibles for our games that we use both internally and externally to educate folks we’re working with about the property. These are actually quite a bit of fun to read as you see a lot of stuff that has never appeared directly in our games, but this kind of background is essential in creating a believable framework for our game worlds. It’s like an iceberg where you only see a small portion at the top but the portion beneath the waves provides a strong foundation and stability for what is surfaced to the player. These IP bibles also allow us to extend our games to ancillary products and sequels more easily.

Has your control over maintaining your IPs changed at all since getting on board with EA?

Working as part of EA has been great in developing our IPs overall as we’ve had more support in driving them to success than we’ve ever had in the past. For example, the excellent marketing and PR support we’ve received on both Dragon Age and Mass Effect 2 have been quite tremendous and beneficial. Additionally EA has a very strong philosophy for broad development, and we’ve got an internal business development team that partners with both folks from EA and external parties to bring our fans items like novels, comics, pen and paper games, figurines, and other ancillary products associated with our properties. We think all of these items increase the breadth and IP scope for our properties; they are something we really enjoy doing, and we think that our fans definitely appreciate them.

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