Sunday, May 29, 2022

The Witcher 3 ‘was better’ than Dragon Age: Inquisition, admits BioWare’s Aaryn Flynn

Aaryn Flynn started working at BioWare on the tools team on Baldur’s Gate 2back in 2000. Once that and Neverwinter Nights shipped, he moved on to the combat and dialogue systems for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, By 2009, around the launch of Dragon Age: Origins, he was promoted to general manager at BioWare Edmonton, and he would later go on to oversee all of BioWare’s studios. Working through the highs and the lows of one of the most famous RPG developers ever, he’s seen a lot.

These days, he’s the CEO of Inflexion Games, a new studio working on its debut game, Nightingalea Victorian fantasy survival title where players must build, craft, and fight in a world of magic.

During a recent interview, GLHF got the chance to talk to him about his new game (it sounds great, and we have an article on it in the works), but we couldn’t resist a little look back. Flynn was kind enough to accommodate, talking to us about career highs and career lows, both of which are mostly tied to a single game – Dragon Age: Inquisition,

As well as being set in a much larger world than the studio’s previous games, the RPG sequel would see the team working with a new game engine – EA’s Frostbite – for the first time. A game engine is a tool that game creators use to make games, and they usually come with baked-in features such as a physics system and a graphics renderer to make life easier. Frostbite wasn’t particularly bothered about making life easier – especially for this type of game.

,Dragon Age: Inquisition was a big one,” explains Flynn. “Transitioning to Frostbite was a Herculean effort by that team and by the studio. That team did an amazing job of reimagining what Dragon Age could be, and after figuring out what that was, putting it all into that game – that was certainly a high mark for me.”

The Witcher 3 'was better' than Dragon Age: Inquisition, admits BioWare's Aaryn Flynn

originally, Frostbite was created for use by DICE, the studio behind the battlefield series – specifically for developing first-person shooter games. The engine had no systems for managing inventory or other typical RPG mechanics, meaning much of it needed to be built from scratch.

“To bend it to make RPG elements was certainly a challenge,” Flynn says. “It resulted in compromises and things that we certainly didn’t want to do if it weren’t for the technology limitations. But the team found incredibly clever and reasonable ways around that whenever they could. I haven’t touched it in five years, so I can’t tell you where it’s at now, but I still see the bugs being recorded by players and other games and go, ‘Ah, that’s too bad.’

The Witcher 3 'was better' than Dragon Age: Inquisition, admits BioWare's Aaryn Flynn

“Mark Darrah, the former executive producer, had a famous line: ‘Frostbite has no notion of player or health,’ or something like that. There are just things that make you like, ‘Oh, my God, what? Okay, we’ve got to do that.’ But I’d say the biggest compromise came from the fact that we had to ship Inquisition on the Xbox 360 and PS3 at the same time as we did on the PS4 and Xbox One. That crushed so much ambition because we didn’t have the team size or the time to differentiate those things, truly. So you had to kind of develop the lowest common denominator. And as that came in, that certainly beat out some expectations and ambitions we had for certain fun features in gameplay. In contrast, CD Projekt didn’t do that with The Witcher 3a few months later, and I think their game was better for it.”

Looking back over his time at BioWare, Flynn’s biggest regret also comes back to Dragon Age: Inquisition and Frostbite. While he’s proud of the team and what they achieved under difficult circumstances, he wishes he’d been better at communicating the issues to the higher-ups.

“Being a programmer, I underestimated the difficulty that Frostbite was presenting to our dev teams, and I wish I wish I’ve done a better job of communicating that to the top brass at EA,” he explains. “I wish I’d been understanding of the friction the engine created for us building a very different kind of game. I see it now in the news reports and in the press, so I kind of get it, but I think I could have done a better job. I could have used the fact that I had a history of engineering to better communicate things rather than believing and trusting the way engineers are smart, we’ll figure it out as we sometimes have in the past.”

The Witcher 3 'was better' than Dragon Age: Inquisition, admits BioWare's Aaryn Flynn

You can explore the Victorian gaslamp setting of Nightingale when it launches in early access on PC at some undetermined point in the future.

Written by Kirk McKeand on behalf of GLHF.

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