Goodbye-O-Ware: Writer David Gaider Leaves BioWare

After seventeen years in the scribbler’s hotseat, writer and designer David Gaider has left BioWare. Gaider joined the RPG-builders back in 1999, putting in some time on Baldur’s Gate 2 before moving onto Knights of the Old Republic. His contributions to the Star Wars universe include snarky murderous human-hating droid HK-47 (a terrifying vision of our machine-doomed future presented as comic relief) and Carth Onasi, a sad space-man. Gaider’s greatest contribution to CRPGs came as lead writer on Dragon Age: Origins, the beginning of the series that, along with Mass Effect, has come to define modern BioWare.

Full disclosure here – I had to look up Gaider’s credits to see which games he’d worked on. Turns out he worked on a few games I enjoyed a great deal. If you’re a fan of CRPGs, you’re probably in the same boat.

I’m not a BioWare expert and the games business isn’t particularly good at planting the names of its writers and designers in our minds. Gaider was well-known in the BioWare fan community though. Because that community mostly communicates online and normal rules of polite behaviour cease to apply, Gaider was on the receiving end of some harsh criticism. Whether it was an out-of-context line about dwarf sex or neglect of the core audience, Gaider’s words caused a stir, both in-game and on-forum.

He was much-loved though, as the general reaction to the games he worked on shows (look, Dragon Age II is a structurally interesting narrative at the very least). There’s been an outpouring of twitter-tears at the announcement of his departure as well, and when he posted that he was leaving Dragon Age to work on a new project within the studio, many DA fans expressed their dismay.

If this news about a man leaving his job voluntarily has made you worry about the security of “NEW IP”, fear not. That’s a normal reaction. BioWare lead producer Cameron Lee is here to put your mind at ease.

“I’m sad that @davidgaider is leaving BioWare, he’ll be greatly missed! Rest assured that development on #BioWare’s New IP continues unabated.”

#PHEW

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95 Comments

  1. Anthile says:

    Well, what’s he going to do? Does he stay in games writing?

  2. karthink says:

    I don’t have much to say about his writing itself, except possibly that HK-47 was great. But I very much liked the blog (Tumblr? Can’t remember) he wrote for a few years. It was full of game development trivia from the perspective of an insider, and it explained a great deal about Bioware’s writing over the years. Like how, for instance, a basic skill for an writer aspiring to work at Bioware is to write ‘circular dialogue’, conversations that converge to the same point that anyone who’s replayed a Bioware RPG is familiar with. Or how Bioware structures and skins a simple quest. Good stuff; I was very surprised he was allowed to talk at length about the many things he did, and sad to see it go.

  3. karthink says:

    That screed on the ‘neglect of the core audience’ is hilarious.

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      And it’s informative, too! I had NO idea that the human population was 99% hetero males!

      • Phier says:

        I would wager to guess that while 99% is high, the vast majority of bioware games players are in fact, heterosexual males.

    • Matt_W says:

      It should be made clear that the screed was penned by an irate fan and that he was summarily and definitively shut down by Gaider himself:
      link to gaygamer.net

      • Premium User Badge

        Grizzly says:

        Thanks for that link! It’s always good to read stuff like that.

      • Distec says:

        Yeah, I’m not sure why Adam decided to link that post as if it was some notable event. And no, I don’t think a heated, multi-page thread on the Bioware forums counts as one. :) The bulk of those 19 pages are people disagreeing with or taking a dig at the OP.

        That said, Bioware romances seem to blow more and more with each game.

  4. geisler says:

    But.. but.. now who will all those prepubescent boys get their romances from?

    • InternetBatman says:

      That’s not entirely fair. He did kill a beloved character in BG2 to troll a forum member.

      • BooleanBob says:

        Come on, you can’t just tease a story like that and hold back on the gravy.

      • Premium User Badge

        DelrueOfDetroit says:

        Give us that sweet sweet InternetGravy!

      • theblazeuk says:

        Please release all the Baldur’s Gate gossip and trivia post haste.

      • Nick says:

        Khalid?

        • theblazeuk says:

          Another friend fallen. Does it never end?

          • Chaoslord AJ says:

            Actually I let Minsc take him around the corner and dispose of him so we could add some kick-ass NPC instead. Sorry, Jaheira.

      • InternetBatman says:

        Lanfear was a forum member who was absolutely in love with Kivan. Gaider turned her into a werewolf who killed Kivan’s amoral lover Safana out of jealousy. Kivan said he could never love a monster like her, and so she tried to kill him (and frequently succeeded based on the party’s actions).

        • InternetBatman says:

          I heard this story from a bunch of people on the Pillars of Eternity boards, notably Gromnir, who was also on the boards in those days and became a boss villain in ToB. The in-game character mimics his incredibly annoying writing-style.

        • Horg says:

          I think you mean Coarn, not Kivan. Kivan didn’t have many lines in BG1 and doesn’t appear at all in BG2 as far as I know.

        • yellow_hat_elminster says:

          RE “Lanfear was a forum member who was absolutely in love with Kivan. Gaider turned her into a werewolf who killed Kivan’s amoral lover Safana out of jealousy. Kivan said he could never love a monster like her, and so she tried to kill him (and frequently succeeded based on the party’s actions).”

          That can’t be right. Maybe they were thinking Coran? Kivan doesn’t appear in BG2.

  5. Geebs says:

    modern BioWare

    I kind of feel DA:O and Mass Effect 1 were the last gasps of the old (good) BioWare

    • geisler says:

      Yes, nothing says “RPG” like a snoozefest trash mob neverending generic dungeon simulator and a 3rd person pubefest G.I. Joe inspired action shooter.

      They did make a great engine for Black Isle to make actual RPGs in, so they got that going for them. Try Baldurs Gate 2 for their last decent game friend.

      Also, “Old” Bioware in talking about games from 2009? What are you, 12?

      • Serenegoose says:

        So besides being pointlessly rude, what have you actually contributed to this discussion? Your comment’s not remotely constructive and it reflects quite poorly on you as an individual. I’d ask if you were 12, but I’ve met plenty of quite polite twelve year olds and you don’t compare favourably.

      • BloatedGuppy says:

        I remember when Scorpia sniffed at Baldur’s Gate, sneering at its “Kill Foozle” plot line and “progressively more mechanical” game play. Seemed like she was still stuck firmly in the mid 80’s as far as her ability to appreciate the medium went. Much as you’re plainly stuck in the late 90’s early 00’s. I liked Planescape and BG2 as much as the next guy, but bitchy little spiels about “snooze and pube fests” make me sad to share an opinion with you. It’s a pity the passage of years didn’t improve your fucking attitude the way it calcified your tastes.

      • rabbit says:

        when i got to the point in your comment where you referred to ‘actual RPGs’ i lost all hope of the comment amounting to being anything more than needlessly bitter & elitist

      • theblazeuk says:

        Hey, let’s not squabble guys. It’s all good times and video games here on RPS.

        I mean it’s good times for the rest of us, one of us is clearly miserable and angry. Poor guy.

    • mattevansc3 says:

      It depends on what you class as good Bioware. While we think of Baldurs Gate as a Bioware masterpiece there’s very little about it that is Bioware’s. The setting, the mechanics, the bestiary, world events and even certain characters belong to the existing D&D adventure pack. Even with KOTOR they were working within an existing universe.

      What Bioware did was to build a great story within that framework. They created likeable characters with good interactions and conversations. There’s been few games where Bioware has not done that. Even Bioware’s most bitched about titles, DA2 and ME3 were strong in that regard.

      Bioware’s big failings have always been in creating new exciting worlds and original game engines.

      • malkav11 says:

        I was never incredibly sold on Mass Effect as a bold and original bit of SF (although I do enjoy the setting), but I don’t think Dragon Age gets enough credit for how detailed, thought out, and honestly original its worldbuilding is. In fact, I know it doesn’t, because they’ve been dismissed as generic fantasy from Origins onwards and it just isn’t so.

        Fortunately, while I’m not a fan of the gameplay changes the series has undergone post-Origins, the storytelling and worldbuilding have remained consistently excellent and if anything I think the guy who took over head writer on the series as of Inquisition, Patrick Weekes, is even safer hands to entrust it to. Inquisition has many failings, but the writing isn’t among them, and Weekes’ Dragon Age tie-in novel, The Masked Empire is actually a really good read, as are his trilogy of fantasy heist novels in his own setting, starting with The Palace Job.

        • Coming Second says:

          ME1 felt original at the time. It chose to use less fashionable 70s utopian sci-fi tropes to bring the setting to life aurally and visually, which along with the relative care taken to make the lore hang together, made it both memorable and lovable. The gameplay was fairly poor, but the story, background and trappings were tight in a way which suggested the devs loved what they were doing and didn’t take their audience for idiots, something that unfortunately can’t be said of the releases that followed it.

          It’s telling that Bioware re-used the “Virgil” theme over and over again in ME3 – aside from the easy nostalgia, it’s instantly recognisable and touching in a way that the stock bombastic John Williams gubbins that defined the series from ME2 onwards isn’t.

    • Wulfram says:

      I remember when old (good) Bioware was before they sold out and went 3D

  6. theblazeuk says:

    David Gaider = Baldurdash.

    Good, good man.

    • malkav11 says:

      So, the guy that made Infinity Engine modding work, basically? Dude. Even if I didn’t love the writing in the games he wrote for (and I did), that would be enough to be thankful for.

      • Jason Moyer says:

        Baldurdash = Kevin Dorner, unless I’m missing something.

      • theblazeuk says:

        Jason is correct :) I just meant that David wrote all those extra wonderful bits that Kevin popped in, all originally cut and restored with David’s assistance and blessing. More than most would do :)

  7. BenWH says:

    I met David at one of the events they ran secretly on Dragon Age to test the toolset before the game came out (I was there by virtue of having written and directed a DLC expansion on Neverwinter Nights). He was a really pleasant, though slightly weird guy – I mean quirky rather than alarming (I hope he won’t mind me saying that). What I really admired about him was his attention in giving stuff out to the fans. He ran a whole series on the NWN toolset, really at a time where Internet communities were still pretty new and for no better reason than he was passionate about it. Nowadays that would be a major blog or at least part of a marketing plan.

    Sorry, that sounds a bit like an obituary, but it is a little sad to hear that one of the last of the crew I knew has gone. Where’s he going?

  8. onionman says:

    I am just finishing up the last DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition, and although I have put in just over 100 hours, finding every last doodad and whatsit, I’ve been thinking the whole time that this is most likely the last time I’ll be playing a BioWare game. Actually I don’t think I would have had the patience to deal with all the things I hate about Inquisition, if I hadn’t decided fairly early on that it was most likely my last BioWare game. So this departure seems to put a point on it.

    Something broke, I think, with KOTOR. Even at the time the “light side/dark side” thing was simplistic, but it worked for the setting and it was overshadowed by all the other things the game did so very right. However, they kept this strict duality all the way through Dragon Age 2, only kind of adding a humorous option, and by then it was too little too late. “Save the world while being the world’s biggest schmuck” vs. “save the world while being the world’s most virtuous milquetoast goody two-shoes” isn’t even bad, it’s worse than bad, it’s boring.

    Also, and I know this is going to get me flak on this site, but whatever: I’m sick and tired of increasingly shrill pro-LGBT pontificating in their games. It’s one thing to have an occasional gay character, or even a main protagonist who is clearly and unequivocally gay (as an aside, this would take a level of chutzpah that they obviously don’t have). However, their hamfisted attempts to be maximally “inclusive” just fall flat on their face. In Dragon Age 2 everyone is bisexual. In Inquisition there is precisely one dedicated heterosexual, one dedicated homosexual, and one bisexual romance option for each player character sex, unless you’re a human or elven female in which case you get an extra heterosexual option. LGBT people make up, at the far end, something like 10% of the population (probably closer to 5%, maybe even as low as 2%). In BioWare’s universe, on the other hand, it’s like a 50/50 proposition whether any given individual is gay or not.

    • newc0253 says:

      Wait, you mean it’s set in a fantasy world that does not correspond precisely to our own?

      Heavens! What will they think of next?

      • onionman says:

        That’s quite rich.

        What they’re doing is the opposite of making a fantasy world unlike our own, it’s taking present-day ethical norms when it comes to e.g. homosexuality and projecting it, without any hint of nuance, onto a more or less medieval Europe-ish culture.

        The problem is that we can talk about same sex families in our present-day culture because we have reproductive technologies that allow us to sever what was in ages past an ironclad cultural link between marriage and childbirth. Succession and inheritance depended entirely on the brute fact of male-female reproduction, which is in classical feminist theory understood to be the root of the patriarchy; women get pregnant and you want to make absolutely sure you know who the father is, so you keep women sequestered and downplay female sexuality as much as culturally possible.

        Hearing characters in Dragon Age implicitly refer to same-sex families in the absence of IVF or similar technologies was a bang-my-head-against-the-wall moment.

        • gorice says:

          “The problem is that we can talk about same sex families in our present-day culture because we have reproductive technologies that allow us to sever what was in ages past an ironclad cultural link between marriage and childbirth.”
          […]
          “Hearing characters in Dragon Age implicitly refer to same-sex families in the absence of IVF or similar technologies was a bang-my-head-against-the-wall moment.”

          No. Nope. No. Wrong. Try again. As someone who has actually studied pre-modern societies academically, I felt compelled to log in just to point out how wrong this is. Adoption, fostering, polyandry, political unions (including same sex ones, in some parts of the world)… This evopsych mumbo-jumbo doesn’t hold up to any kind of scrutiny.

          There are lots of interesting things to be gained from looking at the compromises and elisions present in Dragon Age’s wobbly attempts at historicism, but this is the least useful way of doing it.

    • PsychoWedge says:

      and you don’t think that everything is working according to your standard of deployment of sexuality when 99,999999999999999999999999999% of the rest of the population of Thedas is as straight as the crease in your socks? or is the population of an entire continent made up of the party members of some adventure group? but if they are, who are all those other people you see everywhere? And you don’t think that maybe this unrealistic… convergence… of those highly concentrated lgbt-folks (some are not only gay but bi or even pansexual and we all know that one Qunari pansexual is worth at least four and a half normal gays) is to offer all the players some more options beyond the standard choices?

      • onionman says:

        I’m not entirely sure what your point is, and Poe’s law is definitely in effect here, but in case you aren’t being sarcastic: yes, the fact that the party’s demographics on sexual orientation is wildly out of sync with both (a) the real world and (b) the rest of Thedas is absolutely the thing I’m critiquing.

        As I hopefully made clear, I don’t object to the presence of gay characters or romance options as such, what bothers me is the insistence on a kind of perfectly egalitarian sexuality rationing, like everyone is bisexual or everyone gets 1 of everything. That’s not how the real world works and it’s not how a believable fantasy world works, either.

        Also: “one Qunari pansexual is worth at least four and a half normal gays.” BRAVO!

        • newc0253 says:

          So you have no problem with all kinds of crazy magic, dwarven cities, dragons, demons from the fade, embodied spirits, lyrium, time-travel and gods, but “same-sex families in the absence of IVF” is where you draw the line?

          • onionman says:

            Yes, basically.

            Suspension of disbelief can get you far. That suspension of disbelief comes crashing down, however, when it’s painfully obvious that we’re no longer dealing with a fantasy world with its own rules, but a shoddily-constructed mock-up of our own world as seen through the eyes of a cultural partisan with a political axe to grind.

            (Though for what it’s worth the time travel bit had me rolling my eyes just as hard as the SSM)

          • Distec says:

            Good man, onionman. You’ve laid out succinctly what my beef is with Bioware’s specific and recent handling of these issues, and it has nothing to do with reviling LGBT people or teh gayz.

            Doesn’t surprise me that somebody is acting like a complete fucking asshole to you despite that.

        • PsychoWedge says:

          amazing…

          • Hart says:

            I don’t understand why his opinion drives you to sarcasm. It’s all about world-building. If the world in which Dragon Age: Inquisition takes place was made up of 33% heterosexuals, 33% bisexuals and 33% homosexuals, then at least they would be sticking to a cohesive world. That’s not the case however.

            Frankly, I wouldn’t give a crap about that subject if the writing was better.

            As it stands, Dragon Age doesn’t feel like fantasy so much as fan-fantasy. They care far more about making people feel tingly on the inside than actually making an interesting story with characters who don’t feel like they are made for my pleasure.

          • Coming Second says:

            That’s the crux of it. OP didn’t really help his case with his railing at the “shrill” LGBT community for PUTTING GAYS IN MY GAME WHEN I’M THE HETEROSEXUAL MALE MAJORITY WHERE IS MY PANDERING IN VIDEO GAMES I ASK YOU – but I agree that the fact there is now a stock romance for every proclivity in every Bioware game is just as wearisome and unbelievable as all the other tropes they seem irrevocably married to. It’s like how everyone in Bethesda games now is bisexual; it’s not progressive, it’s extremely lazy.

            I know it’s kind of the eye-rolling thing to reach for this comparison, but the Witcher 3 has you playing as an ultra-heterosexual guy in a Central European medieval setting which is believably macho, xenophobic and paternalistic – but it’s got time to present a crossdressing elf and a heart-breaking and completely off-the-cuff story of male love in its opening reel. In another scene you can have Ciri tell two traditionalist peasants she isn’t interested in the lad they’re trying to set her up with because actually she’s into girls. After an awkward moment the older woman says the equivalent of “Well. It takes all sorts, doesn’t it?” These moments touch and stand out because they’re believable within the setting they’re in, rather than mandated by a rigid formula.

          • PsychoWedge says:

            Well, you know, there are a million an ten things in DAI that disturb the immersion and/or assault your willing suspension of disbelief at all times. It’s constantly there and it yanks you out all the fucking time.

            You know, like mages and magic and healing magic in the codex, in battle tactics and in dialogs but no healing magic for the mages in your party (or yourself) that goes out there and does the fighting bit. Or a horsemaster who supplies the entire inquisition with horse but has actually not one single horse on his farm. Or that silly thing where you have to spend inquisition ressources invent bags you can carry around carrying more stuff. Or that thing where there are are lots and lots of people in Haven und in Skyhold and apparently almost everybody made it but there are only twenty-odd in the cutscene traveling to skyhold. Or this weird way huge weapons are glued to hands like weightless drumsticks. And so on and so on and so on.

            But non of this matters because the straw that breaks the camels back is what? Four lgbt people in a castle. Together. At the same time. I can’t not laugh about that because it is laugh out ridiculous. :)

            Especially if you take into account that apparently nothing else that has been done to make the game more accommodating for players is questioned. At all.

    • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

      Well said. If you’re going to make a game based around social liberal (which I refuse to tritely call “modern”) sensibilities, don’t set it in a Medieval Fantasy. It shows a lack of commitment to consistent worldbuilding (amongst Bioware’s million other design sins)

    • bill says:

      But but but… if you play your character as a straight character then does it matter what options are available to a LGBT character?

      Games allow us to choose different characters, classes etc.. all the time, because different players want to play in different ways.

      You can choose to play as a warrior, and never see any of the thief/magic stuff. Or you can choose to play as a mage and never see all the thief/warrior stuff. Or you can choose skin color, hairstyle, eye color etc..

      Isn’t this about making a game that can be enjoyed by the widest range of players?

      In most games you are playing “the hero”. You are special. And the hero “getting his girl” is a part of that fantasy, like the hero beating the bad guy and the hero making it out of impossible odds.
      Why shouldn’t people of all types be able to experience that? It doesn’t take anything away from you.

  9. PsychoWedge says:

    He wrote the Ascension mod für BG2-ToB which basically expanded ToB to what he/they wanted to do but couldn’t because of time and money. He also was very, very important for the entire BG-modding community and helped quite a lot in the early days with explanations and insides into the engine. Just for that he has got a special place in my gaming heart, as someone who really liked Ascension, as someone who loves BG mods and as someone who has written one or two BG mods himself in the day.

  10. newc0253 says:

    I used to troll the Bioware boards in the dark times after the end of the BG saga when their next big thing was Neverwinter Nights.

    Gaider was one of the few Bio staff who would routinely engage with forum members which, frankly, took a lot of courage. Neverwinter Nights might have been groundbreaking in terms of game design but it was a giant turkey in the story and writing department. Dragon Age was heralded as Bio’s return to the glory days of the BG series but it was in the works so long it seemed like vapourware. The years dragged on and it seemed like they would never deliver.

    They did deliver. For all that folks love to bitch about the various misteps in DA2 and DA:I, I think the Dragon Age setting and its characters represent a landmark in fantasy storytelling and it was Gaider who led the way. Even DA2, with all its flaws, was at least two-thirds of a genuinely great game. I gave Gaider a lot of shit on the Bio boards back in the day but he deserves all the credit in the world for what he accomplished with DA.

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      Yeah I really loved the darkness and “God abandoned us” of the original DA which seemed like a good Game of Thrones/Witcher-mashup.

      They lost a lot of that in DA:I which is basically a theme park.

  11. newc0253 says:

    So you have no problem with all kinds of crazy magic, dwarven cities, dragons, demons from the fade, embodied spirits, lyrium, time-travel and gods, but “same-sex families in the absence of IVF” is where you draw the line?

  12. Hart says:

    Three things I’d love to see in the next Bioware game:

    No romances. Why? Just to see if they can actually make good characters and decent relationships when they don’t have the pressure to make lame dating-sim RPGs.

    To make a small cast of characters, lock them in a room and throw away the key. What do I mean? I mean that instead of having 12 cardboard-cutouts, we get a handful of varied and multifaceted characters.

    Make a narrative that is not as painfully overdone as ‘chosen one saves world from ancient evil.’ Seriously, so sick of it. There’s a difference between narrative and story in this sense: take Mass Effect 1. In the mass effect series we are, essentially the ‘chosen one saving galaxy from ancient evil.’ HOWEVER, the narrative of ME1 is actually pretty good because for the majority of the game we don’t KNOW that we are the chosen one. Most of the game plays out more like a mystery than a power-fantasy.

    Even then, I prolly won’t buy another Bioware game though. So it goes.

    • onionman says:

      It’s interesting how romances went from kind of a weird experimental add-on in BG2 (didn’t even exist in the original Baldur’s Gate) to just an expected part of a “Bioware game.” I don’t remember the details and am too bored to look for a link, but I recall an interview with one of the designers I believe on either Dragon Age: Origins or Mass Effect 1, where the interviewer asked about romances in the then-new series and he said (paraphrasing) “that’s an expected part of what we do.” OK, buy why? What do romance options add to the game, what do they accomplish for the player? Or are we even thinking about this question?

      Politics and world-building aside, the main problem I have with romances in Bioware games is that they seem to act more and more as a kind of surrogate for meaningful dialogue and role-playing choices. Bioware romances have essentially become: pay enough attention to this person, do nice things for them, and eventually they will mechanically agree to have sex with you. That’s icky whether or not you want to make a full blown feminist critique of it. It also serves to mask the lack of interactivity. Ever since KOTOR, Bioware games have essentially been on-rails experiences where you get either “rotten bastard” or “selfless saint” flavor text.

      And yes, I completely agree with you about scale, and the reasons why Mass Effect 1 worked better than its sequels (as a narrative, rather than in terms of gameplay). Planescape: Torment is one of my favorite games of all time, certainly my favorite Bioware RPG, but what makes it work so beautifully is the intimate scale of the story. You’re fighting for the soul of a single troubled man, not saving the entire multiverse from generic villain X.

      If Bioware can break out of this rut, I may consider them again. Assuming ME: Andromeda and the next Dragon Age title are the same kind of “save the world/galaxy” with your choice of red or blue flavor text boring boring boring boringness, however, I think I’m done with the studio. Which is sad, when I think about the glory days of the Infinity Engine.

      • malkav11 says:

        Uh, Planescape: Torment wasn’t a Bioware game. It was a Black Isle (members of whom later founded Obsidian) game that used Bioware’s Infinity Engine. Just FYI.

        Also, none of the Dragon Age games have had a binary sinner/saint morality system, and Dragon Age II wasn’t a save the world plot. Of course, people have been extremely critical about DAII (understandably so) and so who knows if we’ll ever see them revisit smaller scale stories of that sort – certainly the sheer (crushing) vastness of Inquisition feels like a reaction to criticism of II, even though I for one thought its scale was one of a handful of good points.

        I agree that in general they could do with less romance, a smaller and more extensively detailed cast, and a generally smaller scale for the plot of at least some of their games. Or, conversely, if they wanted to keep running with romances that could be a foreground element, not a minor subplot, and have some actual nuance and emotional depth to it. I mean, you want something small scale and intimate, how about a damaged mercenary trying to find their feet again on the home front in the wake of a grueling war that lost them their previous family, and perhaps learning to open their heart again over several years of odd jobs and intermittent interactions with neighbors and coworkers? …I mean, nobody would buy it and you couldn’t shoot lightning up a dragon’s bum every five minutes, but…

        • onionman says:

          Haha of course you’re right. In my head Black Isle and BioWare are the same thing, but of course they’re not, and my favorite BioWare game isn’t even a BioWare game. That said I’m not entirely clear on exactly how they’re related, since I know both Baldur’s Gate and BG2 were published by Black Isle, and weren’t they both a part of Interplay? So… complex relationship, I guess.

          I think you’re more right about the morality system in DA:O than in DA2. It was still fairly binary in DA:O, especially when it came time to resolve the big main quests–basically there was a “light side” option, a “dark side” option, and on a few occasions you could do some extra questing to get a “best of both” option–but the party member approval system was per-character and admittedly the line between “light side” and “dark side” was not always clear. (This is one of the things I liked the most about DA:O, and the progressive shift away from these kinds of moral grey areas is what has ruined the franchise for me as much as anything else).

          In DA:2, however, pay close attention to the dialogue wheel. Nine times out of ten, the choices to advance the story are “light side” at the top, “dark side” at the bottom, and “joker” in between. (Both the “light side” and “dark side” were criminally boring, so I went with the “joker,” which was at least occasionally funny). In fact this system is so hard coded that Hawke’s voiced reactions will come in accordance with what you tend to select, and this ternary system is also hard coded in the Dragon Age Keep.

          I love your idea for a smaller scale with a focus on maybe just one really well-done romance, and I’m actually more sanguine about its financial prospects, but sadly “save the world” seems to be as much the rage with AAA RPGs as with superhero movies. It might just be a cultural moment we have to endure.

          • malkav11 says:

            I’ve never been completely clear on the relationship between Black Isle and Bioware. There was a time (post NWN, pre-KOTOR) where I thought the fact that I disliked the NWN original campaign and bounced right off Baldur’s Gate, but really really really loved Baldur’s Gate II had to be Black Isle’s influence on the latter (since their logo is on it, after all, and they didn’t do anything with BG1 or NWN), what with my enduring love of Fallout, Torment, etc. But from what I’ve been able to figure out, BGII was still mostly Bioware at work. Black Isle helped in some capacity that I haven’t identified, but it wasn’t their game. And then of course I proceeded to get on perfectly well with all Bioware’s subsequent output, Hordes of the Underdark onwards. Even ME2 and Dragon Age 2, which I have serious issues with, are still games I liked enough to finish.

            I wouldn’t characterize any of the moral decisions in Dragon Age: Origins as “good” or “evil”. To the best of my recollection there were generally two or three choices that all involved both some unavoidable downside and some clear good, and then sometimes (too often) a clearly superior get-it-all option. Similarly, although Dragon Age II made an unfortunate switch to Mass Effect’s much inferior wheel dialogue system and clearly signposted “moods” of dialogue, I would not call those a morality system. They were just personalities. The actual moral decisions weren’t related to that and again tended to be hard choices with some personal cost involved. I won’t swear they always were, because it’s been a while and I don’t think I’m likely to replay DAII, but that’s my recollection. And Inquisition’s backed away from that system in dialogue, and has plenty of decisions that really seem more about politics, faith, and such than “morality”, per se. Especially when you pass judgment on criminals that are brought before you.

            And yeah, you could probably do a game like that – an RPG, even – on a small scale as an independent developer. I’ve seen some things that I would consider to fall into that sort of category, although not the particular idea I floated. (e.g., the deeply flawed French Flash RPG Winter Voices, which is in one of the bundles on Indiegala right now, IIRC. It’s interesting, but I don’t necessarily recommend it because Flash hobbles it mightily, the translation is weird, and the gameplay kind of tedious.) But Bioware never could because they’re owned by EA and to EA, if you’re not measuring sales in the multiple millions, it doesn’t register.

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        Zekiel says:

        I agree about the romances. I do them (and generally enjoy them) because you get to interact more with whichever character it is, and characters are generally Bioware’s strongest point. But they all feel so formulaic that it just feels too artificial (can’t speak for Inquistion cos I haven’t played that). I guess that’s a function of having them be optional and having lots of options, but I can’t help but feel they could integrate them better into the game.

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        alison says:

        Perhaps it’s my lack of familiarity with computer RPG tropes, but i didn’t even realize there was an option to “romance” in Mass Effect till i noticed the dialog options with the psychologist in Mass Effect 2. I don’t really think very much about “romancing” in my real life, so it never occurred to me to seek it out in a game either. Until the opportunity to be a creep kept popping up in my dialogs. Out of curiosity, i pursued the romance, and was ultimately rewarded with a seduction/sex scene that i found a little disturbing. Somehow distilling romance down to exercising a Tamagotchi mechanic till you unlock a sex scene makes me much more uncomfortable than just having it happen spontaneously. In the last Steam sale i bought Saints Row IV, and there was no better antidote to the creepiness of Mass Effect and Alpha Protocol than simply placing the dialog option “wanna fuck?” front and center. Somehow i am happier with unabashed fan service or romantic themes hard-wired into the storyline than with the concept of providing titillation as a reward for creepy (or sometimes even just kind) behavior.

        I would be interested to read some of those “feminist critiques” on this, if you have any article recommendations. I’ve always heard about the Japanese dating sim genre, and of course in the West we always had bawdy titles like Leather Goddesses of Phobos, but this “romance” mechanic in a regular game is something new to me and i wonder how other people feel about it.

        • onionman says:

          Here’s an example of the kind of thing I’m talking about:

          link to womenwriteaboutcomics.com

          “This plays into the perception of relationships as a game to be won, boiling down to the idea that the right conversational options will get you into somebody’s pants. It’s the foundation behind pick-up artists and the friend zone—I gave you a thousand dog bones and took you to see your sister, I made the right dialog choices, so now you have to sleep with me. You owe me.”

          The author pulls some punches that I wouldn’t have, and considers modding Sera to be bisexual “erasure” which, whatever, but on the whole I think this is a sound analysis and makes the point well.

          Also, thanks for sharing your experiences with romances in Mass Effect. I think part of the problem, which the author in the piece above alludes to, is in thinking of sex and romance as a kind of “game” that can be “won” if you just push the right buttons. Adding digital (or, heck, real-life) naughty bits as a kind of “reward” just makes it even creepier, as far as I’m concerned.

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            alison says:

            Cheers for the link, this is pretty similar to how i felt about it too. I have enjoyed some games that include the nature of relationships as a major part of the storyline (Emily is Away) or as a side-plot (Dreamfall Chapters) or even just go balls-out with the fan service (My Ex-Boyfriend the Space Tyrant) but yah, this dating sim style thing just feels very icky to me. But, eh, horses for courses i guess.

  13. NephilimNexus says:

    Rat. Ship. Sink. ‘Nuff said.

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    cpt_freakout says:

    You know, that might be a good thing for Bioware. I hope he does well, of course, and that he keeps doing what he likes. Still, the writing in their games had a maximum range of ‘decent’, with a tendency to being just bad. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy a lot of them, but I did stop playing Mass Effect at 2 because I just couldn’t bear all the clichés (didn’t even finish it), and while I finished DA 2 I really thought most, if not all, characters were written by/for teenagers. If Inquisition ever gets an 80% discount I might give it a go, otherwise it’s just not worth it to me. There’s far better RPGs out there, in every way. In the end I hope Bioware gets a better lead writer, someone who doesn’t think fantasy and sci-fi are the sole domain of adolescence.

  15. onionman says:

    @Coming Second

    (Putting this reply here to facilitate conversation)

    This–

    “That’s the crux of it. OP didn’t really help his case with his railing at the “shrill” LGBT community for PUTTING GAYS IN MY GAME WHEN I’M THE HETEROSEXUAL MALE MAJORITY WHERE IS MY PANDERING IN VIDEO GAMES I ASK YOU”

    –is a supremely uncharitable reading of my expressed position. I appreciate that you feel the need to engage in a “hermeneutic of suspicion” because I am eyeing some sacred cows with a butcher knife, however, that’s not what I said. First of all, I did not describe the LGBT community as “shrill.” What I described as “shrill” was BioWare’s increasingly preachy rhetoric on LGBT issues. And please, play through or watch the sequence between Dorian and his father in DA:I and tell me it isn’t shrill or at the very least turgidly sanctimonious.

    Second, I specifically noted that I don’t object to the presence of gay characters or romance options. In fact, if you look through what I actually said, you’ll note that I suggested perhaps BioWare might consider having an unequivocally gay main player character protagonist. I think this would be far more “realistic” in terms of world-building, as long as it was handled with sensitivity, grace, and a keen eye for detail.

    The problem that I have (leaving aside flaws in design and writing etc.) is with the consistency of the world-building and the Puritanical adherence to a model of “inclusiveness” which studiously avoids dealing with the complexities of human sexual desire and the nature of sexual repression, whether of females or of LGBT individuals, particularly in the kind of harsh medieval society that Thedas is supposed to be. I understand that BioWare thinks they’re doing their white straight male fanbase a service by making their heterosexual romance options a choice between a butch woman and a brown woman, and maybe in some sense they are in fact thus providing a service, but to me personally it’s hard to see the “Everyone is bi!” or “1 hetero 1 homo 1 bi for everyone!” character design as anything but willfully obtuse, selling out their narrative and world-building for a pot of message. YMMV of course.

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      FhnuZoag says:

      I didn’t find the Dorian thing to be, in fact, shrill or sanctimonious. And there is not, in fact, a single model of sexual politics in a ‘harsh medieval society’, not historically, and certainly not in terms of fiction.

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        FhnuZoag says:

        I mean the fact of the matter is that Thedas is a world where the Christ figure is historically a woman. You tell me why it breaks consistency of world building to imply that this would have big impacts on gender relations.

        • onionman says:

          “I mean the fact of the matter is that Thedas is a world where the Christ figure is historically a woman. You tell me why it breaks consistency of world building to imply that this would have big impacts on gender relations.”

          First of all, apart from the fact that Chantry clerics are female, the fact that Andraste was a woman doesn’t seem have had any discernible impact on gender relations in Thedas vis-a-vis medieval Europe, outside of the player’s party.

          Second, I’m not talking about gender relations, and haven’t talked about gender relations in this thread yet. What I’m talking about–well actually 1/3 of what I’m talking about, since it was just the last part of my original post, but for obvious reasons what everyone is fixated on, so whatever–is the distribution of LGBT individuals in the party and the design choices that BioWare makes in terms of relating the main player character to those party members. The idea that literally half of Thedas is either gay or cool with being hit on by people of the same sex (implied by the distribution of homosexuals and bi/pansexuals in the player’s party) has no support whatsoever, and would be a wildly different society than the one we actually see in the game.

          I mean, I would be really curious to see a society where 50-100% of people were either gay or cool with being hit on by people of the same sex, it would be an interesting idea for a fantasy world if nothing else, but it’s so far afield from what they’re so clearly trying to accomplish with Thedas (Game of Thrones with more dragons) that the disconnect is extremely jarring.

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            FhnuZoag says:

            You expect NPC companions in an adventuring party to be a representative sample of the game world? Seriously? What proportion of Thedas do you think are Seekers, exactly?

          • onionman says:

            This is obviously not a productive exchange, so I will exercise my right not to continue it, however I will note in parting that you’re missing the point. I don’t expect the player party to be a perfect 1:1 representation of the world. What I expect is good world-building, and the way I see it, making everyone bisexual or making everyone get 1 hetero 1 homo 1 bi romance option just isn’t good world-building. You disagree. We get it.

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            FhnuZoag says:

            How on *earth* did you play through DA:I without noticing that all of these people are in terms of their background very unique, very oddball characters, who are often incredibly unusual for their open mindedness, who have in many cases been ostracized from their societies, and that you generally directly recruited from the fringes of society?

            Do you think Dorian demonstrates that Tevinter society is gay-friendly? Do you think Varric is typical of a dwarf? Do you think your standard Qunari is laid-back as The Iron Bull? There’s a banter conversation with the Iron Bull where he acknowledges that yeah, if his people win, basically everyone in the party is going to be brain-fucked to correct their individual deviances.

          • malkav11 says:

            The perfectly even distribution of romantic options is a bit silly, but yeah, there’s no way the Inquisitor’s companions are representative of typical members of society at large. That is, in fact, generally why characters are adventurers. They -don’t- fit in with workaday society. They’ve broken out of their mold.

            And FWIW, I thought it was refreshing that Bioware is starting to have characters that you can hit on that don’t end up reciprocating your interest no matter what you do. Because it’s never made sense that even the specialest snowflake protagonist would have literally any interest in another character reciprocated. That just isn’t how the world works. You can be awesome as the day is long and some people just aren’t going to be into you. At least unless they have mind control powers or something, but then it just gets skeevy.

      • onionman says:

        “I didn’t find the Dorian thing to be, in fact, shrill or sanctimonious.”

        Then you clearly have a tin ear for dialogue, or are (like the writers) so invested in the political point being made that you can’t dispassionately evaluate the end product.

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          FhnuZoag says:

          Clearly.

        • Yglorba says:

          Has it occurred to you that you might be the one who’s so invested in your politics that you can’t dispassionately evaluate the end product?

          I didn’t see anything off about the conversation between Dorian and his father; it felt real enough to me. Conversations like that happen a lot in the real world (and have happened a lot in the real world, for a long time.) I mean, it wasn’t the world’s greatest writing, but to be honest, most of the writing in the game isn’t that great; I didn’t see anything uniquely bad about it in particular. I think your reaction to it says more about you than it does about Dragon Age’s writing.

          • onionman says:

            In the words of those notorious sympathizers of all things white cis male hetero over at Eurogamer:

            “Easily my favourite of the ones I used was Dorian, the amusingly moustached Tevinter mage and the Inquisition’s designated snarker (also BioWare’s first gay party member, though that only really comes up in his personal quest – a somewhat on-the-nose PSA with experience points),”

            link to eurogamer.net

            Look, you’re free to disagree on something so obviously subjective. But it’s not just cranky conservatives who thought the Dorian personal quest arc needed some serious editorial attention.

          • Distec says:

            I’d also like to add…

            “I think your reaction to it says more about you-“

            …is some horse shit that needs to die. I think it’s clear that a players like onionman or myself are very much “details first” people when it comes to our fiction’s plots, characters, and world building. And we think Bioware often sacrifices coherency and plays fast & loose with its settings in the service of appealing to fans. That’s FINE if that’s where your values lie. I’m not saying one is better than the other, even though I obviously have a preference on the matter. I just like my fiction to be as air-tight as it reasonably can be.

            This should be a super reasonable position to take, even if you disagree with it or think such value is misplaced. So what is up with this shit?

            Let’s not dance around it. What does it say about somebody if they take issue with Bioware’s handling of sexual orientation in their games? If you want to accuse somebody of getting their “straight male” jimmies rustled, just do it.

          • onionman says:

            Thanks Distec, and I agree.

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            FhnuZoag says:

            Funny how you ‘agree’ when just earlier you shat on me for failing to dislike that thing you disliked.

    • Michael Fogg says:

      With regard to Gaider’s impact on the genre: while I think it’s okay to critique the underlying feudal or patriarachal assumptions inherent to most traditional fantasy, I’m very unconvinced that the model of ‘inclusive’, social-justice-approved writing that he introduced is the proper solution. The aim to portray as many as possible of minorities from modern West-lib societies and picture them all as equally capable and attractive results in an extremely bland final product. The fact that it was obvioulsy engineered with politically correct concerns in mind just cannot be ignored. I think stories from minority perpectives are important and should be sought out and promoted on every occasion, but the ‘everything for every person’ approach just results Sesame Street masquerading as epic fantasy, basically. It’s no coincidence that some of the most enduring fantasy writing form the likes of Howard, Lovecraft or Tolkien is built around those old fashioned hegemonical assumptions.

      • Coming Second says:

        Bit of a reach, that. I would describe those writers’ ouvre as being excellent fantasy writing *in spite of* their biases. I hand allowances to Lovecraft and Tolkein I never would a modern day fiction writer, and it’s important to recognise their creations are not in fact beyond critique, even within the context of the time they were written.

        • Yglorba says:

          Yes, this. It’s important to understand that there’s no such thing as “neutral” writing unaffected by its culture and environment. Tolkien and Lovecraft were writing to the political biases (and “political correctness”) of their day; things like Tolkien’s focus on racial purity and Lovecraft’s obsession with sinister African religion are them putting their political beliefs in their work and blandly accepting their own kind of unquestioned, vapid groupthink. An author who makes every character white or straight or otherwise reflecting some “default” without thinking about it isn’t producing something “neutral”; they’re regurgitating their own mindless quotas.

          In this light, when someone says “this work has too many gays and black people in it; I think the author’s just being politically correct” (or whatever), what I read it as is “this work violates my political correctness; I want the author to stick to the quotas I demand for representation.” Tolkien and Lovecraft weren’t neutral — they were pushing a very specific, very deliberate world-view and ideology with the specific representation of the world they chose. Demanding a return to that is demanding that authors serve your own biases.