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Codex Interview Brent Knowles Interview: An Insider's Look at BioWare, 2000-2009

Discussion in 'RPG News & Content' started by Infinitron, Jan 21, 2015.

  1. Infinitron I post news Patron

    Infinitron
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    Grab the Codex by the pussy Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker
    Tags: Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn; BioWare; Brent Knowles; Dragon Age; Neverwinter Nights; Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark; Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide

    In the year 2000, BioWare released Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, one of the most acclaimed computer RPGs of all time. In 2009, they released Dragon Age: Origins, a game that was purportedly similar, but very much a product of its time. It was the product of a company which over the course of that decade, had gone from being a small developer of PC-exclusive D&D RPGs to a cinematic console RPG powerhouse, with titles such as Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire and Mass Effect. And between them was Neverwinter Nights, controversial and misunderstood black sheep of the family, along with its expansion packs, Shadows of Undrentide and Hordes of the Underdark.

    The truth is that you could probably write a book about what happened to BioWare during the first decade of the new millenium. Since DarkUnderlord doesn't pay us enough to write books, we'll have to make due with interviews, which can give us a glimpse at what was going at the company during that time. And what better individual to interview than Brent Knowles, the man whose career at BioWare spanned that exact duration? Starting off as a junior designer on Baldur's Gate 2 in late 1999, Brent eventually rose to become one of the lead designers on NWN, sole lead on its expansion packs, and most famously, lead designer on the Dragon Age franchise, until he was replaced by one Mike Laidlaw after leaving the company in 2009.

    You might remember that Brent was briefly famous during the Dragon Age II brouhaha, when his personal blog posts describing the end of his tenure at BioWare, which confirmed fans' worst fears about the direction the franchise was heading, were brought to public knowledge. With the recent release of Dragon Age: Inquisition, we felt it was a particularly appropriate time to revisit Brent and ask him a few questions about his time at BioWare. To be honest, it was actually way more than "a few", but Brent graciously replied to them all anyway. Read on, then, for...

    [​IMG]
    An interview with Brent Knowles

    Read the full article: Brent Knowles Interview: An Insider's Look at BioWare, 2000-2009
     
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  2. Zeriel Arcane

    Zeriel
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    Holy leading questions, batman!

    Good interview, though.
     
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  3. Infinitron I post news Patron

    Infinitron
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    Grab the Codex by the pussy Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker
    Damn right. I briefly considered asking a question along the lines of "Do you think that by failing to release Dragon Age early enough, BioWare basically lowered the entire gaming industry's confidence in traditional party-based CRPGs and led to the genre's disappearance?"

    But we had enough questions already. :troll:
     
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  4. Roguey Arcane Sawyerite Sawyerist Sawyer's Bride No Fun Allowed

    Roguey
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    In all fairness to Bioware, Obsidian helped that along as well by botching NWN2.
     
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  5. Infinitron I post news Patron

    Infinitron
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    Grab the Codex by the pussy Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker
    That was also going to be part of my question, actually. :)
     
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  6. Kem0sabe Arcane

    Kem0sabe
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    Great interview, Bioware the romance company... :)
     
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  7. Turok Erudite

    Turok
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    Biomance :D
     
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  8. ZagorTeNej Arcane

    ZagorTeNej
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    Definitely agree with Hordes of the Underdark being an underrated gem. In a way I feel that content-wise it's the game that is the most similar to BG2, more so than BG or any other IE games.
     
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  9. Bester Arcane Patron Vatnik

    Bester
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    So I googled them up, because obviously they must be geniuses. And turns out one is working as Senior Creative Director at BioWare, was a lead designer on SWTOR, and the other one is lead designer at Blizzard.

    So why aren't these people, being in high position, make good games any more? And the other thing, why the fuck did they sell out to those fuck ugly corporations that literally produce shit? And Boyarski is in there somewhere as well. And Tim Cain's ideas are flushed down the drain at Obsidian. No wonder all modern games are shit. Fucking corporations of shit.
     
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  10. GarfunkeL Racism Expert

    GarfunkeL
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    Nice interview! Tough questions but Brent answers quite honestly. Too bad his memory is failing at so many points.

    The fact that many of Bio designers thought that D&D is too complicated and that it would be possible to get the same "wow" factor with a simpler system is obviously the reason behind the shitty mechanics of DA:O which certainly had no "wow" factor at all - which Brent seems to acknowledge.
     
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  11. Zeriel Arcane

    Zeriel
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    $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

    You already answered your own question, but the goal of corporations with publicly-traded stocks is not to make art, or even good products, it is to return the highest profit possible to their shareholders.

    And you can hardly blame developers who are no longer young for going with the flow and saving up for retirement with nice, cushy jobs instead of getting fired on principle.
     
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  12. Poos Arcane

    Poos
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    such is the predetermined esteem by which this thread will no doubt garner 300 pages of bum rash i am proud to be posting on page one
     
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  13. Achiman Arbiter Patron

    Achiman
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    From what I can tell from his answers the key to making something that turns out better is to USE the finished game engine that everyone is familiar with.
    Hordes of the underdark - he basically said, oh by that stage we knew what the fuck we were doing with it and we could concentrate on making the game and not fighting with the engine.
    BG2 - again, once they had learned the engine, the game could be concentrated on.

    I really hope this proves true with inxile and Torment is a more complex and detailed game than WL2.

    Pretty cool interview too btw.
     
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  14. Pony King Educated

    Pony King
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    I agree with your reading, the people who blame corporations or money for Bioware's failings seem to miss these answers:
    These quotes solidly show that most of the people who worked at Bioware managed to create good games (based on Codexian values), because of the limitations in working with rulesets made by better designers, and especially ones that you've nerded throughout your youth.

    The only followup that I'd had liked answers to (which he wouldn't have been able to answer), would be which designers valued the complexity of ADnD and what they worked on in DA:O. This would help in figuring out whether valuing (relative) complexity helps design better content (again according to Codex values).
     
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  15. cvv Arcane Patron

    cvv
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    And to make matters worse tooth fairy doesn't exist either you know. :roll:

    ***

    Longest interview ever. But great.
     
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  16. Sulimo Arcane Patron

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    Guessing the interview was done via email or something? Would have been nice if you could have pressed him more on some questions, have the feeling he went for the 'safe' answers most of the time. Still, a nice enough read.
     
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  17. Mustawd Arcane

    Mustawd
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    Very nice Q&A. Some tough questions in there as well.
     
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  18. Azrael the cat Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

    Azrael the cat
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    Part of it is the Peter principle - people getting promoted to their level of incompetence. What happens when someone designs or writes a great game? What happened to MCA after Torment and Kotor2? They can't advance any further in that kind of ground position. The multi discipline aspect of game development means that there's no true equivalent of being a superstar writer, director or even showrunner (and in the US TV industry even quality showrunners like David Greenwalt end up promoted out of fulltime creative roles) - eventually if they want to rise it's either project management or the business end, lending their guidance and experience, sometimes their macro vision, but little direct creative contribution other than keeping their hand in with a couple of characters or an area here and there.

    For some people, that might work. It's too early to tell, but I suspect Sawyer's focus on systems and balancing will lend itself very well to that stuff, and projects with more of a commercial imperative might even soften some of the (apparent, won't really know until release) dryness of his approach to PoE. But what if your talent is writing, or fine tuning major combat encounters, or if you've got a flm directors knack for combining pacing, visual design, lighting and sound to sell a mood or theme or emotional beats? No idea if Avellone should get the credit for this given that it wasn't a quality found in Kotor2, but the pacing of the major 'gate keeping' encounters (pharod, ravel, the tower etc - especially Ravel) are the only time I've ever seen such a linear crpg truly justify it's linear design - it manages to match the flow of foreshadowing information about the next gatekeeper NPC with the pace that the player is funneled from relatively free open areas to the linear sequence leading into the NPC encounter so that by the time you reach Ravel it feels like something of momentous importance. But how do those kinds of visual /aural /penmanship /craftsman talents translate into being a good project manager, or good hirer, or being good at managing people? They're necessary, obviously, you can't manage other people's creative work unless you know your stuff, but they're hardly a guarantee of being able to transmute your design talents to the studio below you.

    Comparing Dead State with WL2 reminded me of how badly people underestimate the advantage of having a solid business /project manager who is first and foremost a suit who loves good games, instead of a great designer /writer promoted beyond their specialty, or at the other extreme, a general businessman with no hands on experience for whom it's just another industry. Dead State is a far more revolutionary game, leagues ahead of WL2 at a conceptual level and it's hard not to conclude that its biggest shortcoming was the lack of a Fargo who could rope those ambitions into a form that could actually be implemented (though I suspect he'd have rejected it outright as being simply unachievable for a studio with that experience and budget). Even if Inxile never makes another good game, it's a testament to the value of having a Fargo at the helm that they had the business sense to ride out the decline by making whatever shovelware they needed to avoid ending up permanently as small cogs in Blizzard's or EA's machine, while having enough passion that when they eventually got the chance to make crpgs again, they didn't go down the Bioware path.

    Edit: should add, Troika, the obvious comparison point, just seemed to get dealt the shittiest hand possible. They fucked up on top of that - making 3 games in a row that buggy (far worse than obsidian's buggy run) is utterly unforgiveable, but none of them were wildly incomplete like Dead State, or salvaged by last minute hatchet jobs like NWN2. And they all made decent profits. They were as unlucky as Black Isle going down due to the losses from Interplays publishing division (itself a product of the same tech and structural changes that sunk Origin) - a profitable studio that nobody wanted to fund, at a time when publishers were so arrogant that they threw away money despite an economy flush with easy finance, because their execs didn't want the stink of 'medium sized projects' hanging upon their careers.
     
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2015
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  19. MrBuzzKill Arbiter

    MrBuzzKill
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    Well, when Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky founded Troika Games, they effectively did this to themselves, but the company still produced 2 great games.
     
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  20. cruelio Learned

    cruelio
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    I like BG2 a lot but I think people have some serious nostalgia glasses for its mechanics. Here are the "strategies on how to defeat iconic foes like the Twisted Rune, Firkraag, and Kangaxx:" make a dual classed kensai mage and kill everyone in the game alone by yourself. This and other broken strats aren't some niche thing you can do if you're super pro expert at the game and have mastered the mechanics to a T, they are "strategoes" you will see them recommended nearly all the time if not all the time people are talking about BG2. The screwed up mechanics and balance would then transfer to DA:O which exchanged stupid broken AD&D shit for stupid broken single player MMO shit (I guess to be fair I would prefer the former to the latter if I didn't have a choice otherwise).

    What I think really defines that game is the sheer amount of content with lots of quests in interesting locations which were written before Bioware really started getting high on their own kool-aid. And the Imoen romance mod.
     
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  21. Black_Willow Arcane

    Black_Willow
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    In before sect of VaultDweller pops in and anounces that Baldur Gates weren't RPGs.
     
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  22. GarfunkeL Racism Expert

    GarfunkeL
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    Reading strategy guides on Internet before playing it the first time
    =
    game is a broken piece of shit.

    I love your logic, dudebro.
     
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  23. :Flash: Arcane

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    Well, but they also said that the company's management was chaos, because they'd rather design, and ultimately the reason for closing the company was how much they hated the business side of things.

    Kudos to Mr. Knowles for being so honest about that, as opposed to many other people in the games industry who really like to adorn themselves with borrowed plumes (e.g. Brenda "I worked on Realms of Arkania" Romero).
     
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  24. Ismaul Arcane Patron

    Ismaul
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    Codex 2014 PC RPG Website of the Year, 2015 Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire Make the Codex Great Again! Grab the Codex by the pussy Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 BattleTech A Beautifully Desolate Campaign
    Oh I don't think anyone would dispute that they're RPGs, only that they're good ones.
    After all, if you play a pen and paper rpg with a shitty game master allowing no choices and consequences (TM), you're still playing an rpg. :M
     
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  25. Zorba the Hutt Arcane Weasel

    Zorba the Hutt
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    Interesting interview, thanks :salute:

    Had to chuckle at his comments on DAO though, they looked like a cut and paste from the endless arguments in the Eternity threads:

     
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