For the past ten years Bioware’s name has been a byword for high quality story-driven CRPGs with involving plots, memorable characters, interactions with your companions beyond a couple of fist bumps and shouting “bro!”, and moral choices. Granted the stories aren’t always wildly original, and some of the “moral dilemmas” err towards “Do you save the puppy or burn down the orphanage?” when they’re not randomly foisted on you, but that sort of stuff is picking fairly minor nits.
Most Bioware games also allow the player to become romantically involved with one, or occasionally more, of the other characters, starting off rather chaste in the earlier games and working up to the obscene filth of Mass Effect. With a couple of new games on the way, Dragon Age: Origins later this year and Mass Effect 2 early next year, it looks like Bioware were worried that traditional CRPGs might be perceived as old and fusty, and are building on the widespread coverage that Mass Effect got. To paraphrase Fry & Laurie, it seems like a recent marketing meeting went something like…
Stephen I am thinking, Leonard, that we must use today’s tools for today’s job.
Hugh I see. And what are today’s tool, in your opinion?
Stephen Oh there are so many tools around today. Look at advertising. Pop music. Films. Magazines. Everywhere images of sexuality and coolness.
Hugh And so we must make RPGs …
Hugh Cool. And sexy. And where shall we find them, these young people?
Stephen Wherever blood and money and sexy talk flow freely, there will you find the young.
Hugh And what will we say? How will we persuade them to surrender their ice-skating and their jazz music and turn to RPGs?
Stephen You must say to the young people – Oh young people. You who are young and thrusting and urgent, there is a beat, a sound, a look that’s new, that’s you, that’s positively yes!
Hugh Hmm. Alright. Boys and girls, dig what I am about to say. RPGs are cool.
Hugh Throw away those transistor radios. Come on out from those steamy parlours where the coffee is cheap and the love is free. Join us in our playing of roles!
Stephen That’s it! Now stick some Marilyn Manson over the top and release it on the internet.
So there’s some slightly mixed messages coming out from Bioware; on the one hand Dragon Age: Origins is a portentous saga in which the fate of humanity rests on a chosen few, and on the other it is, broadly speaking, in many ways “the new shit” with lots of stabbing and occasionally someone in their pants. Mass Effect 2 promises mystery, intrigue and a frightfully cross young lady who forgot to put a shirt on. I think they need to pull them together, really:
“In a world of danger, the player faces tough moral challenges, and…”
“… forcing them to make difficult decisions over…”
“WHO TO DO IT WITH!”
“… with gritty, grown up dialogue…”
“PEE PO BELLY BUM DRAWERS!”
“Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2. Coming soon.”