The new Dragon Age: Inquisition update is now live, and Dragonslayer brings dragons into the multiplayer experience.
We sat down with associate producer Billy Buskell, assistant producer Blair Brown, and quality analyst Luke Barrett to find out more about how the update came together.
Can you tell us a bit about the new dragons in Dragonslayer?
Blair Brown: Each type of dragon also changes the environment of the Ferelden Castle destination: snow for ice, rain for lightning, and a nice sunny day for fire.
How can fans play DAI differently with the new characters in the update?
Brown: Each of the three agents in the expansion are a completely new take on character classes for DAI. Isabela builds Vendetta by using certain abilities as she fights, up to three stacks. Each of the stacks applies modifiers to some of her other abilities, so you are constantly building and using Vendetta to do massive amounts of damage.
ZITHER! has a completely new take on how to play as a mage. He has three notes—fire, cold, and lightning—that can be combined in different ways to play a song. Fire-fire-cold buffs the party's speed, for example, and cold-fire-lightning casts an AoE barrier. You'll need to constantly be in tune to maximize ZITHER!'s effectiveness.
Finally, Skywatcher is a strong two-handed warrior who also summons the power of the elements. Using Mighty Blow after an ice-based ability will add a cold property to the attack, slowing enemies caught in it. Different combinations give Skywatcher a constantly changing set of elemental attacks to pummel the enemies of the Inquisition.
What is the process like for adding new characters to DAI? How long does it take, and who is involved?
Luke Barrett: It takes about three months (excluding testing time) per character, each made from scratch. A designer worked on each unique character.
The process looks loosely like this:
The concept-art and character-art teams show us some rough sketches of what our next unique models are going to look like.
Designers brainstorm different ideas and the costs (of time) of each one, then pitch a bunch of ideas to the team at large based on prototypes that we make using pre-existing assets.
Once all this gets greenlit to be a real thing, then many teams work in tandem. Design flows their work through to Animation, then Visual Effects and finally Audio, and we run everything frequently during the iterative process.
Once we're close to complete, then all the ability names and descriptions and other text get a pass from Writing and Editing while GUI artists are making icons for all the abilities and other HUD objects.
And all during that time, the character-art team is refining the model, the face, and tinting for each character.
What can fans expect to find in Ferelden Castle?
Billy Buskell: Ferelden Castle is a brand-new destination in Dragon Age multiplayer, built from the ground up to host our majestic high dragons. Players will notice a much more open layout within each of the zones and the health font rooms. That openness to the combat spaces, combined with increased enemy reinforcements, means enemies will approach you from multiple sides, as they use the high ground on stairs, perches, and towers.
Dragons make their presence known in multiplayer from the moment you enter Ferelden Castle, with the high dragon swooping past your party and letting out a ferocious scream. You're in her new home, and she's set on protecting it. Throughout the level, the dragon will circle the area, perch and fire at enemies below.
As you make your way through the map, you’ll notice a gong in the third zone. If any of the players in the party have a Dragon's Call in their inventory, they can use it to summon the high dragon down to fight. Ferelden Castle and dragon fights are available in all three difficulty levels, and help bridge the gap between each setting.
How did the team come up with the character of the Virtuoso?
LB: When we set out to add more characters to the multiplayer mode, I immediately started looking for a niche we could fill. The early suggestion was a spell-twisting mage who combined elements. I took that idea and went a little wild, creating a concept for a character who worked very differently than anything else we had done before.
I built a very rough prototype to explain exactly my thinking, and it got a lot of people very excited, especially in some of the artistic departments like visual effects, animation, and audio. Then we received the go-ahead to have real work begin.
Since then, there have been many iterations to get the character to where it is now. The only thing that really stayed the same was that he's a mage and his role is to support everyone else.
How did Dragonslayer take shape over time?
Buskell: From the time we started working on multiplayer for Dragon Age: Inquisition, we were discussing ideas for how we could bring dragons into the mode. During the main game's development, we reached a point where we had to make some tough choices on what we felt we could deliver at the quality level we would be happy with as a team. We made the call to put dragons aside until we could really focus on them.
When we returned from the holiday break in January, the team got into a room and started jotting down ideas on a whiteboard on what we could do to not only introduce dragons to multiplayer, but make sure they were special events.
Our level-design and level-art teams set out to create a space that could allow the dragon to not only exist in an arena, but also play a role in the whole level. The team got together every Friday to play the latest build and provide feedback. We started with a whitebox stage, where literally the entire level is made up of white and grey geometry, to establish the overall size and flow of the level.
While the design team was doing that spacing and pacing, the artists were busy coming up with interesting, eye-catching areas and features to draw players through the level. Right as that process was really taking off, the gameplay team brought in their prototypes of the three brand-new characters that had been in the works for weeks.
The first time we all had a chance to play as ZITHER!, Skywatcher, and Isabela in Ferelden Castle was an amazing experience for all of us. We left the room that Friday afternoon knowing we were really onto something special.
Can you recall any anecdotes about creating the new content that showcase the team's creativity?
LB: My original Virtuoso prototype used an upside-down version of the Dispel visual effects for all the songs (in various colors), and the animation was a mirrored version of the animations the musicians in Halamshiral use to play their instruments. He also played it air-guitar style for a long time until we got the lute model hooked up.
The music the Virtuoso is playing is actually a pared-down version of some of the songs the bard plays inside the Skyhold tavern. If you switch notes three times and then activate the ability about five times in a row, you'll hear the whole thing. Our audio guys are incredibly talented!
Buskell: Throughout the development of Dragonslayer, I'd get texts from our MP level designer. It was awesome. The next day after a text, I'd get an IM at my desk, or the designer would pop by and give me an update, often with a final note to swing by his desk to check out what he'd been working on.
I'd walk over, play the latest update, we'd start brainstorming and then he'd jump back into the toolset. The next day, we'd be playing a build with the new content. It was amazing to see that level of rapid iteration and passion coming from the team every day on the project.
Our awesome tech team played a huge role in creating the tech and the tools for the team to be able to bring this content to life. Andy, David, Jeff, Owen, Sydney, Amelia, and Derek did work that lets us now create matches with random destinations and difficulties or select which dragon to face, allowing for a whole new layer of player choice and strategy that wasn't there before Dragonslayer.
It blows me away what this team has been able to accomplish. We come into the studio every day knowing we're going to see something awesome, learn something new, and play some incredibly fun new content.
Dragonslayer is one of my favorite pieces of content I've been fortunate enough to be involved in during my time at BioWare. I couldn't ask for a better team.
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