The Average Gamer

BioWare Co-Founder: Bethesda are 10 years ahead of us

Dr. Greg Zeschuk (left) and Dr Ray Muzyka onstage at Eurogamer Expo 2011 The co-founders of BioWare, Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuk were in London this weekend for a presentation at the Eurogamer Expo. Rich Burley from Newb Review, Chris Hartnup of Gaming Lives and I caught up with the doctors in a boutique Soho hotel to talk about the studio and where they are planning to take the company.

BioWare are known for being very focused on stories and emotion, with a penchant for dialogue and character-driven narrative. Any gamer who played Baldur’s Gate back in the 90s will remember Minsc and his miniature giant space hamster, Boo. More recently, much of the world’s depth in Dragon Age 2 is established through the background conversations between your party members as you walk around the city of Kirkwall.

Zeschuk himself very much likes to explore worlds. During an interview with CrispyGamer back in 2009 he talked about his experience in Fallout 3, finding a room in under a bridge that was “filled with toilet seats, piled in these intricate pillars”. I asked him to tell us more his interest in environmental storytelling.

“I like that a lot.” Zeschuk said. “That’s one reason I also like BioShock. BioShock, the original, is one of my absolute favourite games. It’s funny because we haven’t done as much of that at BioWare. We do it – probably more so now than we did in the past. I really like the concept of exploring and then finding odd stuff and so, I think Fallout 3 was just amazing for that.”

Internally at BioWare they talk a lot about games like System Shock and BioShock. In Muzyka’s words “Their stories were told not just by characters but also by the environment and the reaction you had as you walked though it.”

Zeschuk added “Yeah, I think that’s where BioShock was drawn. There are all these sculptures and then you could break it all. That was the other thing, you could mess it all up.

“It’s so interesting to have the simulation level of being able to interact with the sort of unique construct and then when you think about it, a designer had to go in there for fun. ‘I’m just gonna hide this little room under a bridge’. It’s just really interesting, you’re interacting with something. It’s almost like art, right? It’s almost an installation. And you’re like, “What on earth is this? Utterly bizarre” and actually that kind of moment is very poignant.

“Most games don’t do that. Most games are like, ‘Straight shot here. I shoot that, I shoot that, I shoot that, and I’m done’. This was like ‘Wow, someone actually went to the trouble of doing this.’ It was a really magical moment.”

When asked if they would be doing more of this type of storytelling, the response was affirmative. As a studio, BioWare look for inspiration from other developers’ products. According to Zeschuk “One thing about developers is they’re all really good at certain things. When I think about Bethesda – and I don’t mean to criticise. I think it’ll probably be big praise – more than anyone they are unbelievably good at creating a sense of place. Like you’re there. It’s incomparable.

“And so all of us are good at different things. We’re good at telling structural character-driven narratives. That’s our really big strength so for us to get to where Bethesda was on their sense of place, we’d have to work on it for ten years. They worked on it for ten years. Every game you can see they’ve done it a little bit better, a little bit better, a little bit better. That’s kind of the magic of development is that to really get great in the craft you have to actually repetitively build upon it for years and years.”

Muzyka confirmed that we will be seeing more opportunities to explore in future games from BioWare. “We do try and incorporate more open world system-driven design in our games. You’ll see more of that from BioWare in the future too, along with narrative and characters and choice and consequence; some of the things that we’re better known for. Also more action – a lot of different things. It doesn’t mean we’re losing our roots. We’re augmenting them, enhancing them with other things that we respect very much from other developers.”