Summary: JCal's interview feeding frenzy continues today, as he takes a bite out of BioWare's co-CEOs and gets their comments in Jade Empire, Mass Effect and their plans for E3!
FiringSquad: It's been a few months since the merger of BioWare and Pandemic. Overall what has the transition been like for the company so far?
Ray Muzyka: The transition has been incredibly positive! The partnership with Pandemic has been incredibly collaborative and both studio families continue to communicate more and more all the time. We recently had a “mini GDC” after the Game Developer’s Conference ended, with about 50 participants from each studio taking part. Greg and I have been down to Pandemic many times and Andrew and Josh, the co-founders from Pandemic, have been up to visit us multiple times as well. The feedback on our products from the folks at Pandemic, as well as from Greg Richardson (our peer at BioWare/Pandemic HQ, Greg is VP Commercial Operations of BioWare/Pandemic) and John Riccitiello (our boss, John is CEO of BioWare/Pandemic) has been incredibly valuable. We’ve already made improvements to all of our titles based on this feedback and we’re just getting started!
FiringSquad: Why did BioWare want to launch an MMORPG and establish a base in Austin Texas to handle the development?
Ray Muzyka: BioWare has been considering developing an MMORPG for quite some time – we’ve always felt that developing an MMORPG would be a natural extension of BioWare’s past experiences in developing roleplaying games. Austin has a tremendous gaming heritage with a lot of talent, especially in the MMO space. Austin offers a very friendly environment to game and technology development, with lots of experienced, talented, passionate individuals – and we’ve got a great team at BioWare Austin already as a result! We’re very excited to take the best feature of the MMO space and combine them with the RPG experience we have at BioWare.
FiringSquad: Last year BioWare released Jade Empire for the Xbox which while it got solid reviews also got some critics saying it was not quite the slam dunk they were expecting. Overall was BioWare pleased with the reactions and are there any plans for a follow-up?
Greg Zeschuk: BioWare was very happy with Jade Empire – the team did an incredible job of building a very strong game with a well realized world, a compelling story and some great action combat. We’ve haven’t announced anything about the future of the franchise but we certainly liked the original game!
FiringSquad: BioWare also experimented with downloadable content for its Neverwinter Nights game. Where does BioWare see downloadable games moving to in the future from its end?
Greg Zeschuk: We’ve had a great experience developing downloadable digital content for Neverwinter Nights – our Live Team has made some really great modules and there are more to come! We’ve learned a tremendous amount and look forward to applying our knowledge and experience to other games in the future. The future of digital downloads is huge, both on the PC and on consoles.
One benefit on the PC is that anything goes – any industrious group and simply put up a compelling game or experience for sale and hopefully the customers will flock to it. Also, there are a number of different groups offering different options for downloading content – we’ve got our BioWare store that is focused on selling content and products dedicated to our games (and perhaps other products in the future), IGN has a great Direct2Drive site with a ton of different games available, Valve, of course, has Steam which has made a big impact on the industry, and there are a whole bunch of others. Even EA seems to be getting into the mix!
On the console side Microsoft’s tremendous Live Arcade makes downloading classic games, add-on content and other media painless and easy. I’ve certainly spent a fair amount of time downloading stuff off Live. We’ve also very excited to learn more about Sony and Nintendo’s plans for their online services – the options for gamers are huge!
Greg Zeschuk: Mass Effect is looking terrific! In every way we’ve made steps to innovate and improve our approach to creating an interactive game world. So experiencing it all together is an incredible, truly “next-gen” experience. The atmosphere of Mass Effect is surprisingly immersive and emotionally gripping, making the gigantic story concept all the more compelling - it’s like a spectacularly beautiful science-fiction painting brought to life.
Mass Effect is the first in a trilogy of sci-fi action RPGs in development for the Xbox 360. Set in the year 2183, you play the only Human SPECTRE – a sworn defender of galactic stability. You’ll lead en elite squad against the advancing armies of a legendary agent gone rogue, before discovering an even greater galactic threat. In addition to an epic story arc, Mass Effect allows players to visit a vast number of uncharted, unexplored planets to discover new alien life, ruined civilizations and powerful technologies; in the end, nothing will hold you back in your heroic quest. Mass Effect is an original intellectual property created and owned by BioWare, and published by Microsoft. The story will evolve over three main games – each with a huge and satisfying conclusion. Downloadable content will continue the story in between games, so that there is always new content to play in the Mass Effect world, especially when combined with the exploration of “uncharted worlds”. Players can create their own personal character for Mass Effect, and then play that character through the biggest interactive science-fiction adventure ever told!
Mass Effect’s combat is quite unique and innovative for a story-based action-RPG; it is real-time squad-based combat played in a third person format. You’ll be in command of a squad of three (your main character included) and each character will have a choice of specialty-class skills that will offer different and compelling tactical advantages in combat. Combat is very tactical, as you can allow your squad to use their own AI or give detailed commands that allow your team to coordinate their actions on the battlefield. Each character on the battlefield can bring unique skill-sets to the table and it will be up to the player to both cultivate those powers and also to think tactically to survive. You’ll be able to draw from a wide range of aggressive combat feats, including both dangerous tech-based attacks and also powerful Biotic powers which manipulate mysterious physics forces to unleash tremendous energies on the enemy.
Speaking of characters, the virtual actors in Mass Effect are truly state of the art – they have to be seen to be believed. Detailed, incredibly realistic facial movement with full lipsyncing and dialog (including dialog from your main character) and smooth, realistic animation help convey the feeling you’re interacting with real personalities in the game, and help move the story along in a very natural way. And we’re innovating in dialog a lot too, to make the story that much more compelling. We plan to share some exciting new details about the game at E3 2006 and show off all these cool features in person there – Mass Effect is BioWare’s main focus at the E3 show this year.
FiringSquad: What other hints can you give us about upcoming projects at BioWare?
Ray Muzyka: We’re looking forward to announcing details about our new MMO being developed in BioWare Austin in the near future. We also have an unannounced surprise or two in the works which we will also be sharing at E3 2006, in addition to showing Mass Effect there. The Dragon Age team is hard at work and we’re very excited about how the game is looking so far!
FiringSquad: Obviously BioWare likes the PC and Xbox 360 platforms but what about the other two next gen consoles? Are there any plans in the works for BioWare to release any games for the PS3 and Revolution?
Greg Zeschuk: We’re huge fans of all of the consoles – we play everything that comes out on PC, consoles and handhelds. We feel very strongly that certain games are very well suited to specific platforms and our goal is to bring our games to as many people as possible. Over our history we’ve worked on PC, SEGA Dreamcast, PS2, Xbox and now Xbox360 – we’re quite open to trying new things!
FiringSquad: Microsoft is set to launch Windows Vista late this year and they claim to want to start a new interest in PC games with the OS and with DirectX10. In your opinion do you think Windows Vista will be a boost for PC gaming or are other things needed for the platform?
Ray Muzyka: We’re definitely planning to continue to support our valued PC fans in the future and we think that Windows Vista could mean great things for the PC gamers. Vista’s veatures are really powerful, and will hopefully lead to a resurgence of PC game development. One of the most exciting things about VIsta is that it could help resolve the age-old issue of driver-based software and hardware compatability issues that often affect PC game performance!
FiringSquad: We frequently hear about the lack of game innovation but sometimes games come out that are truly original and are ignored by consumers. In your opinion what is more important; innovation in games or simply good game design?
Greg Zeschuk: Both!
FiringSquad: Finally is there anything else you wish to say about BioWare and its plans for the future?
Ray Muzyka: Just that we have great teams at BioWare – hard-working, smart, creative and passionate, and it’s an honor for us to represent them. They’re all working very hard to deliver great products to our valued fans – working on awesome titles like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and the BioWare Austin MMO, plus a bunch of other things!
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