Bioware’s art director believes the studio is pushing the Xbox 360 and PS3 harder than ever for the upcoming release of Dragon Age: Inquisition.
“We’re deliberately in opposition to what’s been before. If your art direction is very dark, if it has desaturated colour, it sets you up to play the game in a specific way.”
As developers and publishers honour the aging systems with one last Christmas before throwing all resources at the new PS4 and Xbox One consoles, Bioware is determined to leave a good looking corpse on last gen.
“We’ve probably pushed them further than we ever have before,” Neil Thompson, director of art and animation at Bioware told VG247. “When you’re trying to take a gen 4 experience and put it on a gen 3 console without compromise then by necessity you’re pushing those consoles really hard.”
“It’s tough,” he added. “We want people to have the same satisfying experience no matter what platform they play it on. From a graphical perspective the gen 4 versions look more dense, but in terms of the aesthetic of the game they should be the same across platforms.”
But Thompson’s art team is dedicated to Dragon Age’s narrative, said Thompson, so even on higher-spec consoles it isn’t going to throw around over-the-top artistic flourish just for the sake of it.
“We’re very keen that the art should always support the narrative rather than be in opposition to it. We try not to do anything that’s gratuitously there from an artistic perspective. It’s epic and grand but it has to have a point and the point is derived from the narrative.
“The world of Thedas is a great foundation that we’ve built. There’s a world there with multiple warring factions that just generates ideas. There’s so many stories there that you can tell, I don’t think the river of ideas is going to run dry. And the good thing is that these stories are are not all tied to a single character. We can always promote new characters and tell new stories from different perspectives within the factions. So it keeps it fresh.”
Bioware’s work with the Frostbite engine is impressive – so much so that the systems that Thompson’s art team have put in place have been adopted by the secretive workers on the new Mass Effect project.
In other words, if you want an idea of how the next Mass Effect game will look, just check out the work being done on Dragon Age: Inquisition.
“Frostbite allows us to do much more,” details Thompson. “One of the prime sources of inspiration for Dragon Age: Inquisition was the work of Northern Renaissance artists. We’ve seen the introduction of Frostbite as the semi-Renaissance of BioWare in terms of the visual art.
“It’s a threatening world, there’s lots of danger and the threat of doom and gloom. But that shouldn’t alter the fact that it can still be beautiful. We really wanted to introduce a much more colourful and rich environment than we saw in Dragon Age II.”
“We’ve not been compromised by our engine choice, so this has given us the opportunity to bring it to the screen in a much more vivid, rich and lush way that we just haven’t been able to do before.”
It’s not just a desire to distance the art style from the last Dragon Age game, says Thompson, but also a trend in dark fantasy art that he believes has influenced gameplay.
“We’re deliberately in opposition to what’s been before. We have strong ideas on how the art direction should work for our game. If your art direction is very dark, if it has desaturated colour, it’s very grim, it sets you up to play the game in a specific way already. That’s the mood you’re entering just by looking at it,” he says.
“What we’re trying to achieve is we want people’s decisions to be altered by the decisions you make within the game. So the world can be a beautiful place but it’s the decisions you make as you play through that can change your environment – not in an aesthetic sense – from a moral sense, into a good or a bad place.”
But for all the love given to the art on last-gen technology, Thompson admits that the studio also needs to show and prove on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles. Afterall, the first thing everyone notices and comments on with new consoles are the graphics capabilities.
“We’re the first against the wall,” he jokes.
“What we wanted to do with this game and the next generation of hardware is… we’ve not been compromised by our engine choice, so this has given us the opportunity to bring it to the screen in a much more vivid, rich and lush way that we just haven’t been able to do before.”
Dragon Age: Inquisition is out for PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC in November.