The lights are on
You wouldn’t make it through your journey and the world would likely end up in shambles without the brave souls that join your cause. Your followers are the heart and soul of the Dragon Age experience. Love them or loathe them, you’re unlikely to forget about them.
BioWare has created stand-out party members throughout the Dragon Age series, whether it’s Morrigan and Alistair bickering or Varric’s ridiculous stories; your party becomes your family. What goes into the creative process behind the allies that are going to be there every step of the way? What can we expect from Dragon Age: Inquisition’s cast? We couldn’t resist asking BioWare these questions on our recent visit.
Believe it or not, before a character is even written, the process starts with a concept artist. Writers merely provide a blurb for a character; something as succinct as, "Dexter-meets-Madame Butterfly" to the concept artist. “We’ve found that if the writers forged on ahead and created these fully-fleshed characters that by the time it got the concept artist, the concept artist might be like, ‘No, [I] don’t understand, and they’ll be playing catch up the whole time,’” says lead writer David Gaider.
By involving the artists early on, the process becomes more collaborative. The concept artist then takes the initial vision and provides a few ideas, “Elaborating on [the blurbs] and trying different directions – because when it’s early nothing is set in stone or fluid, you can try different stuff,” says associate art director Matt Rhodes. “In our heads, those different blurbs tell different stories. We put them on paper and then [the writer] picks them up, flourishes off of those, and eventually we start whittling them down to the ones that really work and stuck with people.”
BioWare has seen firsthand the benefits of this approach as it’s complemented the writers’ creativity well. “They provide some visuals for us and that would inspire us in turn, so we’re kind of building something together,” Gaider says. “I’ve rewritten scenes based on storyboards. I’ve described the story one way, the picture comes back, and I go, 'That’s completely different, that’s way better,'” says senior writer Luke Kristjanson.
Getting Down The Look
As they progress, the descriptions get more elaborate, giving the artists more to consider with the design. For instance, a coat can say something about a character’s history, and as most know, BioWare is infamous for hiding trinkets to tell stories. “We always love hiding stuff on a character, like really big important things that are huge aspects of [them],” Rhodes says. “We love hiding them somewhere, having some trinkets so when the revelation hits, you’re like, ‘That’s what this has been this whole time!’ But we need to reign ourselves in. Sometimes there are things that are too big and we can’t put it right there on the surface or it ruins the whole art.”
Too many hands on deck when creating such a personality can be difficult, so the team makes sure they have the best interest of the character in mind. “There’s a delicate balance that we all walk where a character has to have their own identity, have their own selves,” Rhodes says. “When too many of us make too many decisions about that character that are apparent…they can tend to get kind of sandblasted down; trying to make sure the characters are given their own identity physically and story-wise is critical.” Rhodes points out how in the past, the main distinguishable parts of characters were the costume design and affectations.
Rhodes noticed when studying fan art that people were always changing the characters’ faces and moods around. “This time we’re pushing toward having a character be [more] recognizable,” Rhodes says. “If someone’s going to draw them, they have to draw the bump in their nose because that’s a part of who they are. You might not think that’s attractive, but that’s okay. Do you think every part of your friends or loved ones are attractive? It’s part of growing to like somebody for all of their quirks.”
After all the design work is said and done, BioWare prefers to have a realistic character over the embodiment of perfection. Still, showing a character – flaws and all— to the world can be nerve-wracking. “I have those feelings sometimes where I don’t want to send my kid to his first day of school wearing a propeller hat, you know?” Gaider says.
Up Next: Deciding on party members and changing characters to balance out the group...
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