Saturday, December 7, 2019

Soft Retcons and Krogan Valentines... (Dragon Age Day Interview with Patrick and Karin Weekes, Part 2)

As you know, I interviewed the dynamic duo of Patrick Weekes, Lead Writer on the Dragon Age franchise at BioWare, and Karin Weekes, Lead Editor at BioWare, last weekend for Dragon Age Day 2019 (and it was awesome). 

And yes, Dragon Age Day may be over, but thanks to all of the amazing Dragon Age fans and our friends among the talented BioWare directors, editors, developers, writers, artists, voice actors, and more, it was our best year yet, raising $8400 and counting for Able Gamers! (How much do we love you? Count the words on my blog. And they still won't equal a pittance of how much we love everyone who took part.)

And the great news is—we still have items up for auction, and will still be taking donations for an additional week or two, to see if we can meet that $10,000 goal! You can help, by visiting our Tiltify link, or simply by sharing where you can. 

Besides, Dragon Age Day (much like this interview), never really ends. It lives on in our hearts every day. Again, much like this interview.

So onward, Inquisitors, Wardens and Hawkes! Part 1 of the interview is here, and meanwhile, Part 2 of the interview is transcribed below! And I swear to the Creators, you will actually learn things you maybe never knew before... read on.

ANGELA: For each of you, across your Dragon Age work, was there a small inspiration that changed the game or turned into a major character or plot element for you?

PATRICK: Okay, so I don't know if this is the kind of answer that you were going after, but I have never liked doing Codex entries.


What?! As a lore nerd, I love the Codices! I need to weep silently. I'll be back.

KARIN (to Patrick): But you're so prolific at them!

PATRICK: I have to be! Because I get a list assigned to me and they go, "Please fill this," and then I just go, "Fine." 

But what actually sort of turned me around was realizing—having Codex entries go from a thing that reads like a list of begats in the Bible, to being able to go, "Wait, you're telling me I can write anything I want in this Codex entry, I just have to relate it to this statue the player clicked on?" 

And so when I was given the Hinterlands, there are a series of Codex entries about Tyrdda Bright-Axe. And I was talking with the level designer, and said, "Do they need to be anything for you?" and he said, "No, they can kind of be whatever," and I went, "Okay, great." 

KARIN: Can I just jump in here real quick?


KARIN: So the Codex entries are the most entertaining things, because usually, the writers start doing those after all the dialogue is done. Which means they're kind of tired and getting punchy, and that is reflected in the verboseness, even if they're not spoken aloud, of the Codices. But yeah, they're usually completely punchy by this point.

PATRICK: Exactly. So at this moment, let's say I was—hmm, so, bored is the wrong word, since we were on deadline and I was working late... But I was going into it with an attitude of not particularly wanting to do it, and then going, "Fine, if I'm in here, I'm going to use my freaking English degree. I am going to do some kind of Old English poem. I'm going to do almost-Beowulf style, except because I'm a tiny bit anal-retentive, and I know that even though I know the Beowulf-style sagas did not have rhyming, as they focused much more on alliteration, today's readers won't get that, so I'm going to do the alliteration, and rhyming. And I'm going to use that to tell a Barbarian Warrior Princess lesbian love story." 

And the fact that I got to do that just kind of turned Codex entries around.

KARIN (laughing): That's all it took!

PATRICK: I was just thinking, "And no one's stopping me, and I can just do this?" 

KARIN: A Beowulf-style lesbian love story. That's all you needed.

I just need to go back and read those in order now immediately. I don't even think I caught some of that storyline originally beyond the ornate structure of the poems. This is great.

You've both talked about team members who have been incredibly helpful and inspiring in the past. So I just wanted to ask, are there any fellow team members you always wanted to call out as deserving of special praise who don't always get it, or who have been your secret weapons, etc.?

KARIN: Oh, there are a lot of people like that. And I mean, I wish there are ways that a lot of people could get...

PATRICK: More spotlight.

KARIN: Yeah, more spotlight.


PATRICK: I've always been impressed by Sylvia. I worked with Sylvia, on a lot of projects...

KARIN: Sylvia Feketekuty.

PATRICK: And I've watched her go from being (laughs) — Karin is the supervisor of last names — Sylvia does such an incredible job of integrating gameplay with narrative in a way that really inspires me a lot of the time. So beyond Luke and Sheryl. I've also currently been doing a lot of work with Brianne, Brianne Battye...

KARIN (teasing): I'm so proud right now.

PATRICK (laughing): She has a last name! And Brianne—she came on during Mass Effect 3's DLC, and the first thing she got thrown into was the party for the "Citadel" DLC, and then she came over to Inquisition, and watching her write Cullen was just amazing, because she was a new writer, she was figuring stuff out, and she got given one of the romances with the highest pressure on it, because everyone had an opinion about Cullen. There were people who were on record as not caring about the writing or the story who would still come over and go, "Okay, you have to make sure Cullen's romance is hot enough."

And Brianne just shone under that pressure. So again—like Karin said, we work with a team of incredibly talented people.

KARIN: And Mary Kirby just recently—maybe for DAO's tenth anniversary—tweeted the flow chart that she had made to track the Landsmeet, which was one of the things that she worked on. And the fact that she stayed sane throughout that speaks very highly of her fortitude and intelligence and creativity. She also wrote Varric and is responsible for Varric. Which, you know, pulls my heartstrings. 

And just the whole team—honestly, some of the people I would like to call out are the programmers who worked on our tools, because we have this toolset that we write in, and I'm always breaking it, and there's always something wrong, and they are so patient. They figure out how to fix and then maintain this incredibly complex set of needs that we have for all of our tools—and different departments have different toolsets and they all have to work with each other and it's just sort of constant and never-ending, so I'm really really grateful for that.

Karin, you started out as a writer and journalist, then moved into editing. Do you still prefer editing versus writing, and what is there about it that works so well for you?

KARIN: I have a Master's Degree in Journalism, and I discovered when I was engaged in said Master's Degree that I actually like playing with words a lot more than I like being a journalist, per se.

I found that I liked more arts writing. And I had gotten into it because I had wanted to do more writing on behalf of First Nations issues, but then I tended toward less hardcore investigative stuff. And honestly, the thing I enjoyed doing—far and away the most—was when we did headline writing, and my pièce de résistance was about a goat that had gotten on a roof. I ended up writing this amazing pun-tastic thing about that goat on the roof, and that was the thing I was most proud of, of my entire Master Degree experience! (laughs)

But the thing that was so great about journalism and learning to write that way, was that you're trying to make words and sentences and ideas as clear and concise as possible. So that's really good for editing, when every word you write costs something, because it has to be localized, and for the VO it has to be recorded, so the fewer words we can get away with, the better. So it really helped give me an eye for, "What are the superfluous words we can take away and still have it work?" 

Now, for me, editing is like, "What are the pieces of marble we can chip away to reveal the beautiful statue underneath?"

I think some of that has always been innate. My Dad calls my Mom "The Claw" because she always edited everything he wrote. So I inherited my 'claw' abilities directly from my Mom, and you know—I am the kind of person who will correct menus and who will stop and fix signs on various buildings that are incorrectly punctuated. And so a lot of it has just been a really great way for me to get paid for my compulsive behavior.

PATRICK: One of the angriest moments I have ever seen from her about a non-life-threatening issue was a nonprofit poster...

KARIN (laughing): It still makes me so angry!

PATRICK: ...a poster talking about an important and positive social issue with the header, "It's up to you," and the "It's" didn't have an apostrophe.

Oh, no... that's actually painful.

KARIN: It was huge! This huge font, just enormous... "ITS UP TO YOU." I can still see it.

PATRICK: And Karin's like, "Can I just add the apostrophe?" And her rant was amazing. (laughs)

KARIN: But what freaked me out was that this was a place that I worked, and I saw the poster, and told the people who bought it, "You realize this is not correct, right? That it's actually inaccurate?" And the answer I got was, "Oh, the printer said it didn't matter which way it was..."

(Another embarrassingly loud theatrical gasp from me...)

KARIN: And that's when I just about lost my mind. 

Everyone laughs.

KARIN: So things like that really upset me. 

I'm a former editor, and I feel this on a deep level, I want you to know.

KARIN: That, and the Oxford comma—anyone who knows me knows my Oxford comma feelings... 

So there is that. There is something about it for me... I mean, I'm not a 'rules lawyer' in very many ways in my life, but punctuation is one of those things, where I do find it very satisfying to, well, make things like that pretty, and to make sure the sentences read correctly, or to make dialogue (which is not always grammatically correct) read the way it should. 

And at that nonprofit, the other things I learned about included how to do development marketing and marketing writing, which were useful. Ultimately, there are different ways of expressing yourself, and so being able to switch back and forth and make the words appropriate for different situations is something that's really satisfying. 

And it's also pretty cool in getting to work with a writer, and helping them to make the best (she laughs)—oh, that sounds so heartless! In helping them to make the prettiest words they can.

No, but it's like you said... just chipping away, so that it's perfect.

KARIN: Yeah. And I will admit that the thing that I like about editing the least, is that if I do my job well, no one realizes I've done it. So it's really easy to get, um... let's just say that when I sing, I'm a soprano, so I do have a little bit of diva ego that I like to have sometimes, and it can be a little frustrating that the editing part of the work gets overlooked because people don't see it—you know, people don't always see what something looked like before I worked on it. 

So that part isn't fun. But—especially working in a place like I do, with the teamwork and getting to help make these stories come to life and these characters come to life as a collaborative process—that has been really, really good.  

For both of you: How involved have you been when it comes to language in Inquisition? There was so much more Elven and Qunlat in that game, to me. Did you come up with or add any specific terms yourselves?

KARIN: A lot of that was already in place before Origins. Like, there was—I know someone came in to consult and work on the elven language, but that wasn't the final version.

PATRICK: That was the original backbone. But Dave was responsible for most of the Elven, and Mary was responsible for most of the Qunlat. 

So, honestly... I have certainly used it. I would say that whenever I write a follower who comes from a background that has a language as part of their culture, I find a way to use that. I love getting the chance to have Solas speak Elven, I love getting the chance to have a Dalish Inquisitor talk to Solas in Elven... those are moments I just love.

And I love getting to throw things in for Bull and the Qunari language. I am... I would say it's funny because as a wannabe linguist who sometimes makes up languages in my non-work novels, I think the other writers find me either too fussy or too hesitant when it comes to adding new words to our lexicon. I would sometimes pester Luke and say, "Luke, I need a word for this in the Qunari language, but I can't quite find the right thing. Is there a thing you can look up for me?"

And he'd just look at me and go, "Patrick. It's all made up, man. Just put something in there." And I'd be like, "No! I, um—no! I don't think I'm qualified!" And he'd go, "Lead writer, bro!"


So, yes, I will almost always err on trying to combine words to form a new word, or to use something that comes with a basis rather than pull something out of thin air. I actually think other writers are actually a bit better at that than I am. But that said, I do use the foreign languages more often than a lot of the other writers. Solas used a lot of Elven.

He really did!

KARIN: And I mean, it's per character too. A lot of characters won't need to use a different language. I think my part of it is just trying to make sure we wrote it all down somewhere, and to make sure that we could remember what it was we said before.

PATRICK: We also have a Wiki—one of the few areas in which I think our internal documentation is more complete than what fans have put together, because fans will do astonishingly detailed write-ups of some of our plots, and there will be times when I'll look at them and go, "Well, that's better than what we have on the internal Wiki, because what we have on the internal wiki was our first draft—and there were things that changed right before ship that we never bothered to update the documentation on. 

But we do have a list of, "Okay, here's our Qunari page, here's our Elven page, here are the raw words, here's (roughly) what the grammar should be like... here are some example sentences that we have used for stuff." So yes, I do get the chance to add things to those pages.

KARIN: So can I go back and add one thing that this reminded me of? 

Of course!

KARIN:  Talking about editing, the other unsung hero I wanted to call out is my editing cohort Ryan Cormier, who is so good at managing this kind of thing, as when we do something and he'll go, "Hey, Patrick made up a word, let's write it down."

He's just so much better at that than I am, and when there are new phrases or new things, he is just so good about documenting each of them, and putting each item in places where people can see it, and he's so good at also reminding people that it exists. He is just prodigiously great at doing that.

The thing I was curious about on the language front has to do with the fact that, Patrick, specifically, you are writing for two characters who are oftentimes speaking in riddles, as well as speaking in layers. And Solas and Bull both do this, so I had a lot of fun trying to decipher what might be deliberate, or... 

I mean, Patrick, like... when Solas speaks Elven, because it's more of a cipher, there are so many ways you can interpret even one small phrase or sentence in Elven... 

PATRICK (happily): Mmm-hmm.

(Ha! HERE is the Patrick who put so many of us in Solavellan Hell. He just sounds... so... freaking... HAPPY.)


OUTWARDLY: (unconvincingly) Um, it's really cool!

(We all laugh. I laugh too. Sort of.)

PATRICK: Well, it's really fun. And yes, there are times when we put something in like that and go, "Oh, fans are going to have a lot of feelings about this. Fans are going to have a lot of opinions about what the Great Nightmare is saying—

(Me, basically shrieking) THANK YOU! Right there. That's it!

Patrick and Karin laugh out loud. Like, full-on, and it's wonderful if slightly embarrassing.

Shit. I'm so sorry. Go on! I didn't mean... 

PATRICK (with disgusting calm): ...and I feel very proud that I know canonically exactly what that phrase is.


PATRICK:  And... anyway (casually), did you have any other questions?

(Everyone laughs again, and I deserve it.)

I'll be all right. I just need a minute...

OKAY! So... as a proud lore nerd, I love the Dragon Age Codices and I know how many fans do too. Can you tell me about the people involved in creating the amazing Codex entries?

PATRICK: Well, it's mostly... it's all the writers and the editors.

Oops. I—did not know that!

PATRICK: Oh, okay, sorry... No, it is.

KARIN: Yeah, so it's all the writers...

PATRICK: It's the writers and the editors. So every writer... wait, Karin can explain first...

KARIN: Wait, no, really... I was... (laughs)

PATRICK (laughs with her): Yes, go ahead... 

KARIN: Well, so one of the things editors do is to help to wrangle all of this beforehand. And so, everyone else that works in different parts of the game will say, "Oh, we made this new feature! We made this new tree, we made this new thing. So, new objects and things like that, so, we will record those places, and say, "Here's all the stuff that we need Codex entries written about." 

And then the writers will look at that list and then take those and go.

PATRICK: It's not just Codex entries, but every non-VO-text part of the games—so that's the Codices, the journals, the ability strings, the notes—all of those. 

And every writer essentially pulls double-duty on that stuff, and so all the writers will write some combination of quest, follower, advisors, role-playing plots in the wilderness, as needed. And then we all kind of wear different hats, and journals were Ben Gelinas's and I was just so grateful it wasn't me. 

Because on Mass Effect, I was Journal Guy. And can I just say? No one should be Journal Guy.

KARIN: Journals are just particularly tricky because they touch so many parts of the game, so, you know, it's not just the words, in fact, it's probably less the words than other things and if they're displaying in the right places, and if the information's right, and if the gameplay changes and something switches... so they're just very complicated to keep track of. 

PATRICK (laughing): Yes, they are. 

So they are difficult to script, but the good news is, they're also difficult to write!  


It's a team effort!

PATRICK: Yes. So... Ben did journals, and if I'm remembering right, everyone also did some combination of War Table stuff?

(Here, I restrain myself from derailing this, since I love the War Table. Don't get me started.)

PATRICK (continuing): On Inquisition, I did the ability strings, which is why the Double Daggers talent tree is written in iambic pentameter...

I did not know that.

KARIN: So, ultimately, it can also depend on who's got the time...

PATRICK: In fairness, Cameron Harris did dare me...

KARIN: Cameron's another one of our awesome editor heroes...

That's wonderful! Um...

PATRICK: Oh, sorry, please go on.

Oh, no, sorry, I was just gonna make more happy noises. 


But! I did want to ask... from the beginning, in each chapter of the Dragon Age trilogy, we've seen a widening and more complex exploration of the Qunari culture. So first we get Sten, and then we get the Arishok in Dragon Age II (who needs to call me, by the way), and then we have of course my darling Iron Bull in Inquisition.

And it's... to me, in each case, it feels like you were presenting us with a sort of subtle expansion of our awareness of what this culture really is. And how did The Iron Bull fit into that for you guys?

It's just... he's such a paradox, I think, in some ways.

PATRICK: Well, um, because I was on a tiny bit of Origins, and then did not come back until Inquisition, while I would love to be able to say that we had a complete, coherent, master plan for how everything was going to go—um, the truth is, with each of these games, we put these things out, and we swing for the fences, and we see what people latch onto and what they're interested in, and where we can go, "Okay, that part, people didn't really respond to, so we can just sort of leave that one off by the side of the road..." Or, meanwhile, "There's this thing people really want more of, so let's do more of this."

And so from an out-of-game standpoint, the Qun in Dragon Age: Inquisition is definitely a little different from Dragon Age: Origins. I'm fairly certain that when Sten adamantly declares that the female Warden is actually male because she fights (and therefore she must be male)... Bull's perspective is rather, "I have changed what the Qun means for that."

And so the heart of that is just because Origins came out in 2010, right?

KARIN: 2009.

PATRICK: Oops, late 2009. Hey, sorry, like... dates are hard... 

KARIN (snickering): It's the whole tenth anniversary thing. 

PATRICK (laughing): Exactly. It's that whole tenth anniversary thing, man, yeah.

But that was definitely a big question for a lot of people, that difference between Sten's definition of the Aqun-Athlok and Bull's. Especially because it has such significance for Krem, from Inquisition.

PATRICK: So for me, what I mean on this is... Out of game? Yes, we are changing things. And part of the reason we're changing things is because we want to be more inclusive. 

And another part of the reason we're changing things is because we're looking at the Qun at this point and going, "If it's literally nothing but what Sten has said, that's very limiting in the stories we can tell that involve the Qun."

KARIN: And some of it too, again, is documenting all this stuff back in Origins. David Gaider put a lot of effort into worldbuilding, years of worldbuilding. So it's like some of the building blocks are there—enough detail that we know what the world is, but not so much detail that we're written too far into any corners or anything.

So part of the fun with that, in addition to seeing what people like to do with those pieces, and seeing what interests us, is that there's still a whole huge map left—places we haven't explored yet. So in addition to the idea that obviously, there are real-world things, and real-world topics that we want to address in the games (and that changes as time passes), that can also get meshed in with "Hey, what haven't we done yet?"

PATRICK: So when I was talking earlier, just to be clear, that was the out-of-game, behind the curtain view, peeking in at the writers' room and what we're looking at in those moments... and going, "Okay, I think they need to be a little more like this." 

Yes, as Karin said, we have tried to take pains not to write ourselves completely into corners. So that when we need to do things that are either a soft retcon or an addition of nuance where people had not necessarily felt there was nuance to be added, we can do things, like, we can say, "Okay, yes, Sten was telling the truth as he saw it, but Sten is a soldier. If you ask a soldier who is going off into a foreign country to explain his culture —specifically, a soldier trained from childhood to be a soldier, and taught only the things a soldier needs to know—he's going to have a very specific viewpoint."


But if you ask a member of the Ben-Hassrath—specifically, one tasked with anti-terrorist activity in a foreign country, and who has been trained both in deception and in understanding foreign viewpoints so that he can learn to read signals and figure out who's lying and who's secretly working for the enemy, he's going to have a far different perspective and be able to explain with more nuance. He'll be able to say, "Okay, yes, the Qun by the rules as written says this. But here's how we interpret that so we can actually live as a functional society." 

That's where we're able to make changes behind the scenes and go, "Yes, the Qun in Dragon Age: Origins was a little bit monolithic, and that does kind of make them into the Borg... but if you want to have a conversation with the Borg, you need to look elsewhere, and have it with a Seven of Nine type of character. 

Someone outside the Collective.

PATRICK: A character who has broken out. Because you can't have a conversation with the Borg themselves, because they're just gonna assimilate ya... So we needed to paint them with a few more shades of grey, to the Grey People, and that's where Iron Bull was able to come in and give a new perspective. And I think you can see that kind of progression with the Arishok as well. The Arishok was absolutely a true believer, but was a general, rather than a foot soldier. 

Right, definitely. (Mentally: And also hotter than summer in the Forbidden Oasis...)

Patrick: And he has more of a big-picture view. And while he is not a member of the priesthood like the Ben-Hassrath, he is able to put more things into words and to discuss the philosophy a little bit more fluently than Sten was.

It worked out so seamlessly. Because, like you say, the limitations of Sten's viewpoint can be explained by his status and his place in the world, and in his understanding of his own culture. There's something very naive about Sten in a great way. And then you go on to the Arishok, who is more traveled... and it progresses wonderfully on to Bull, who is of course very comfortable anywhere in the world, it seems so...

KARIN: And going back to Codex entries, that's a thing that I think is particularly fun, because they are very purposefully written, most of them, from someone's particular viewpoint. So it is the truth of the viewpoint of that person. They believe they are telling the truth. 

But they are a person with their own experiences, dependent on how they were raised and who they interacted with, and so... that's one of the things I love best about building a game, the whole franchise... 

For me, it's coming at things from that viewpoint: "Is this real? Is this true?" Well, it sort of depends on who you're asking.

And I'm finding that more and more relevant in the real world, as time goes by. 


KARIN: And it's been very interesting to explore that.

Karin, are the Qunari still your favorite race in Thedas when it comes to your Inquisitors?

KARIN: Yes! I am... okay, not the tallest person in the world, and I very openly and lovingly embrace my short-person syndrome when it comes to games. You were talking about how you loved going into the tavern on a Friday and just listening to some stuff... well, my Friday evening blowing off steam is me joyfully hitting something with an ax.


I honestly think that's healthier!

KARIN: The very first time I played Origins, I played as a dwarf, because it was the first time I'd ever seen a character model that kind of looked like who I was. And that was really fun.

But, yes, kind of my gaming fantasy is to be a big, tall person with big muscles who whaps on things that need whapping, and so, yes... 

So melee is your favorite fighting style, still, as well? Just going in with an ax?

PATRICK (laughing): Oh, here we go... give her a hammer or an ax and she is a happy girl.

I can't do it! I'm so bad at melee!

KARIN: Oh, I could tell you a few stories about my non-platonic life partner... (laughs

But here's a story. After Mass Effect 3 came out and multiplayer was going, I really really wanted a Krogan warlord character to play with.

And, well, and I couldn't get it, and I couldn't get it, and I couldn't get it. And then someone came home for lunch and grinded until they got a Krogan warlord... and then gave that to me for Valentine's Day.

PATRICK: On her account!

KARIN: On my account! For Valentine's Day. So that is love. Right there.

Aw, man...

KARIN: It was amazing. I just cheerfully beat the living crap out of things for hours. It was so good.

Well, and Krogans. I love them.

KARIN: So yes, I am a fan of the Qunari Inquisitors!

So, Patrick, I have to ask. So in that infamous moment if Bull is Qun-loyal in the DLC "Trespasser"—when Bull says, unforgettably, "Nothing personal, bas.Why doesn't Bull call the Inquisitor 'Basalit-an?' Why just 'Bas?'

For those reading, for full disclosure—this was my number one question, and Patrick and I had chatted about it a bit earlier when I was working on fixing my audio (sadly, nothing was fixed and that's why this is a transcription!). But, Patrick, what you said was really interesting.

PATRICK: Ha, 'interesting' in the way that is probably going to get me hate mail...

No! ("Dear Internet, Please do not send Patrick hate mail over this...")

PATRICK: The real answer is... um... 

(They pause, and I can tell they're trying to distill their earlier answer.)

I'm gonna cut to the chase on your answer. Because it hurts more, right?

PATRICK: Yes. The real answer is exactly that. And the dirty secret is part of what we talked about... like, how much of this is master-planned, and how much of this is by the seat of our pants, and... the reality is... until "Trespasser," I had my strong feelings about people who sacrificed the Chargers, but we did not know there was going to be a Qunari plot until "Trespasser." 

And then that came, and we said, "So, well, how's this going to work with Bull, and how's he still going to be able to do anything if he's still a loyal member of the Qunari?" 

And then we worked that out, and well... here's the thing: We didn't have him trade on the plans until we all looked at it and went, "Well, there's only one answer. He has to turn on you. He's a member of the Qun. And you made a choice that kept him loyal to the Qun."

So... I had me picking the main boss for you...


PATRICK: And what he called you was a complete coincidence... until the moment when I saw that mission specifically, where you're attacking the Ben-Hassrath stronghold. That was Mary Kirby's, and she went through that, and I saw the moment where, if I changed it and did a voice pass, I would have him say, "Nothing personal, Boss."

And then I looked at it and went, "Oh. Bas." Because that will not only hurt the player deeply in the moment...

And oh, it did.

PATRICK: ...but it will also make them wonder if he's been calling them bas all the entire time in your relationship!


PATRICK: And I thought, "Oh my God, that is the most hurtful thing I could possibly do right there!" 

And yet anyone who encounters that moment absolutely has earned that moment by making that choice with respect to the Chargers

Yes, they did. And I mean, I've done it too—I wanted to play all the options for analysis purposes, because Bull's one of my favorite characters, and I wanted to understand both sides. And I had always saved the Chargers, because of course—they're wonderful and beautiful and precious as his found family. 

But playing through and saving the Dreadnought, and even the way Freddie plays him after that! It broke my heart. Even just through the end of Inquisition... now, my friend (and Dragon Age Day Founder) Teresa swears that Freddie is saying 'bas,' not 'Boss,' ever after that moment in that playthrough... 

Patrick and Karin both laugh mysteriously but don't comment.

Which I think is genius because it's not something I picked up on.

Patrick chuckles again. Darn it!

The Qun-loyal choice is so heartbreaking to play, especially in hindsight, because even in the romance, he's a much colder character. You really see the precipice that he's been walking along. And we just... we didn't catch it at the time, because it's Bull, and he's so lovable and funny and charming... until he's not.

Sorry. I'm still not okay.

(More laughter from the heartless Weekeses here...)

PATRICK: Just remember, you're only not okay if you made that choice. And while all choices are valid, and we definitely don't play favorites with respect to which ones are good or bad...

KARIN: We do have a shortlist of choices, that if you made them, we probably can't be friends...

PATRICK: Certain choices have consequences!

Absolutely. I support that completely.

Meanwhile, Karin, I know you're a musician and a singer. I wanted to ask you what some of your favorite musical moments in the games are, for you...

KARIN: One thing I was thinking about when we were talking about Patrick's love for poetry and musicality in the dialogue, is that we actually met in University, in a singing group.

PATRICK: A community service singing group.

KARIN: Yeah, and we learned these standards, and then we'd go on the weekends and sing at nursing homes. So that was our first initial way of bonding, over music and singing. And then we realized we both liked music and the rhythm of words and poetry too. Music is something that's fun for us. And makes us incredibly harsh about lyrics not sticking to the right cadence! (laughs) It's not okay. 

So... in terms of the music in the games, well, obviously "The Dawn Will Come..."

Of course, right?

KARIN:  It's absolutely one of my favorites. And what was super-cool about that was that (and Patrick will have to correct my failing memory if I get this wrong) the melody was already written, and David was putting the lyrics together for that. He was trying to write the lyrics to fit with the melody... is that right?

PATRICK: Yep. Yep, that's right. And he called...

KARIN: And he called Patrick and me in because he knew we were into musicals and music and things, and so we got to help him kind of talk through the lyrics for "The Dawn Will Come," so that was really exciting... it was very generous of Dave to let us take part in that.

You get to feel like Sondheim for a brief, shining moment!

KARIN: There was that, and then because I work with the VO team, I get to see little peeks here and there of things happening, and so as the voice actors were putting that scene where everyone's singing together, I remember talking with Caroline Livingstone and our team, and going, "Who can sing? Who can sing?" And we tossed it to them, going, "Who can carry off a solo?"

And so just watching and hearing that all come together. That, to me, is one of the most representative ways of how being on a team with so many people focused on the same thing comes together so well. The setting, the light, the camp, the choreography, the cinematic design, the music—it just all came together so well. 

And it's so cool, and I still get goosebumps.

Oh, me too.

KARIN: Also, a thing that has tickled me is how much that moment has affected other people—finding things on YouTube, and finding people who've done recordings of it, and more.

PATRICK: And again, to echo kind of what we said earlier, it was a year and a half before ship, and we didn't know...

KARIN: Yeah!

PATRICK: There are times when we're just swinging for the fences, going, "Okay, some people are going to think this is the dumbest thing ever, they're gonna think it's corny..."

KARIN: That it's gonna be super cheesy!

PATRICK: But we just have to believe that the people who get to this part in the game are people who have played enough that they love these characters, that they're attached, that they just got through the assault on Haven, that they are emotionally vulnerable, that they are ready for that moment, and that—not everyone—but enough people, will really be touched by that moment to make it worth it. 

And, you know, that's one where I feel—for Dave, and for Karin, and for everyone who was part of that scene, I feel like it paid off.

KARIN: Not everyone does love it, and some people think it's cheesy, but when you love musicals, people will sometimes think the things that you love are cheesy! (laughs) 

But that did come together in a very cool way.

That was the moment when I went from, "I really love this game," to falling absolutely flat, and going, "Okay, I will let this consume my soul." I was just gobsmacked that everyone started singing. I was, like, "Is this real? It's too perfect!"

KARIN: And that's a thing that we've talked about a lot. Especially, you know, being a singer, I'll have people go, "Oh, I don't want to sing with you, because, you know, you'll hear me, and I can't sing, and it's terrible..." 

And that always breaks my heart, because  singing is the oldest form of music. And people have sung culturally for thousands of years. And in places like that, people would sing for harvests, and sing at ceremonies, and sing when babies were born, or at funerals... and would sing when they were working, to keep to the rhythm of the work and to keep themselves going... 

And that kind of singing felt so appropriate to do right there. And Dave was thinking that this would be... almost a hymn. With that spiritual aspect of, "When things are bad, we'll sing this song to lift ourselves up." So it's kind of going back to that kind of community singing and community spirit that comes from a bunch of people singing together.

The very first choir I was ever in, my director used to say, "The cool thing about choirs is that the total sound can actually be greater than the sum of the parts." And I feel like that's kind of true, especially in that setting, when people come together, and it's definitely in the "how you sing"—in the physicality of how you sing, and the spirit that you put into it that makes it what it is.

I really get that. I was a formal voice student in college—completely mediocre, wasn't gonna change the world—so I picked up the cello instead. And I'm a really bad cellist, by the way! But I will always love singing.

KARIN: No, see, here we go! You're doing that thing you shouldn't do! Did you enjoy it?

I did! 

PATRICK: My gallows humor favorite part of the music is, every time in any one of our games that I want to have someone sing, like when I want the Chargers to do a tavern song...


PATRICK: I have to come in and do a take doing the tavern song myself.


PATRICK: And... I do not have a fantastic voice. I have an acceptable voice.

KARIN: You have a fine voice. You have a very good natural voice.

All this while, I'm basically listening to this like that famous Jeremy Renner GIF, chin on hands, grinning.

PATRICK: It's not trained.

KARIN: But you have a lovely tone!

PATRICK: Yes, but every time... the VO people say, "Okay, Patrick, in order for them to know what kind of mood you're going for, you need to come in and do a take." And then they never delete it.

Oh, no! But wait... that's great... right?

KARIN: I did that for "The Dawn Will Come."

PATRICK: Yeah. But people don't play your "The Dawn Will Come" as blackmail.

So it's just out there. Somewhere.


PATRICK: Yeah. It's sitting on a few people's hard drives. If I ever get too full of myself... 

Everyone laughs.

So what's interesting about "The Dawn Will Come" to me is that—Karin, you mentioned that the choices were all who could sing, basically. But it's also interesting because that scene is so Chantry-forward? It's all the believers. And I loved that.

Especially because it brings me to my favorite Solas expression in the entire game—him looking at this with that face—you know the one...


... and he's just going, "What is going on?"

KARIN: And he's not quite getting it and not really understanding that thing we were talking about, that community, and what's happening there.


KARIN: And another shout-out to the cinematic folks for that. 

And it is so well-done, and it is so beautiful. I love all the direction and the facial expressions. I love that there's that pause that just lets everyone be tired and sad and wounded there.

KARIN: Yeah. And you know, the tavern songs were fun too. They were a little in-game complicated, but it was fun helping to put those together just in terms of writing out all the lyrics and stuff.

(Here, a cat in the Weekes household begins meowing VERY loudly, and it is adorable.)

And the tavern songs are so lovely. And they're so immersive!

KARIN: I mean, it's a pub! Of course you're going to have people singing! I love that.

And that's such a big part of the worldbuilding. That's why I go back and play the game. Sometimes I'm going back to throw fireballs (if I'm in that kind of mood) but other times I'm going back to listen to Maryden sing, or go replay some dialogue. It feels like we're going away somewhere, in a great way.

KARIN: Yay! That's what we wanted.

Everyone laughs.

Thanks for reading, everyone! And please stay tuned for more from Patrick and Karin in Part 3 of the interview, to follow soon—in which we meet Ashy the cat, and in which Patrick may or may not divulge a few secrets about death... in the Fade! 

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Mary Kirby and Brianne Battye Conquer the Questionnaire (Dragon Age Day 2019)

So, as you know, we've been sharing a fun questionnaire with the BioWare team for Dragon Age Day 2019, and were gifted with this fabulous combined response from Dragon Age writers Mary Kirby and Brianne Battye

In addition to their work on the Dragon Age games, Mary helped Varric Tethras bring Hard in Hightown to the world in 2019, while Brianne has contributed multiple stories to the upcoming Dragon Age story compilation Tevinter Nights.

Check out their answers, below!
What's your current mood?

MARY: My mood is always the same: slightly chilly and in need of coffee.

BRIANNE: Right now? Pretty good. And vaguely nervous.

MARY: Wait, is this asking our mood at the time of answering, or whenever this gets published? Also, my answer will be exactly the same.

BRIANNE: When am I not vaguely nervous?

What was your role (or roles) in working on the Dragon Age games?

MARY: I’ve been a writer on almost all of the Dragon Age titles. Most of them, anyway? (Except for "Awakening" and "Witch Hunt.")

BRIANNE: I was a writer on Dragon Age: Inquisition (including "Jaws of Hakkon" and Cullen’s conversation with the dog in "Trespasser"). Also, I know this question says “games,” but Mary also co-wrote Hard in Hightown with Varric, so I’m calling that out.

MARY: Ghostwrote? Or edited? I was more of a consultant on that one. 

What part of your work was most exciting for you?

MARY: Writing the dance with Duchess Florianne in the Dragon Age: Inquisition plot “Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts.” We’d never done a conversation with branching in the middle of an action scene before, and the player’s dance moves depended on their conversation choices. It required a lot of coordination with Frank Gordon, the awesome cinematic designer for that plot. I sent him probably half a dozen rewrites of that one conversation for feedback to get the timing of the branches right on each choice.

BRIANNE: Dragon Age: Inquisition was my first full-length game. Being part of something so big, with so many moving pieces, and then watching those pieces come together… it was very exciting! I’d been a fan of the first two games, so actually contributing to this world was surreal.

What challenge was most scary or daunting?

MARY: The Landsmeet. The very first thing I ever worked on as a newbie writer was the most complicated plot in Dragon Age: Origins.

BRIANNE: Remember when I said Dragon Age: Inquisition was my first full-length game and I was contributing to a world I love? That’s also terrifying! I was learning a lot and I definitely fell down a few times. But we all fall down, and I had a great team supporting me.

MARY: One of the great things about the Dragon Age writers is that you can call a megamind at any time. You can be super-stuck trying to get something to work, and all these great people will stop whatever they’re doing to help you figure out how to make that one line 20% funnier, or the knife twist a little harder, or to get your plot to go from point A to point B without collapsing like a sad souffle in the middle.

What was your most satisfying moment or contribution to Dragon Age?

MARY: Oooh, it’s either got to be “Fine Dwarven crafts!” or the ladder in the Western Approach with the description text that just says, “Can I get you a ladder to get off my back?”

BRIANNE: I wrote a couple songs in the codex entries. Later, I saw that people on YouTube had put them to music. That was pretty cool.

MARY: Wait, which ones? I haven’t seen that.

BRIANNE: "The Girl in Red Crossing" and "Shred of Blue." I was so amazed! Music, artwork, cosplay, crafts… Dragon Age fans make such cool art!

What was a favorite team or collaboration moment for you?

MARY: In Dragon Age: Origins, there is this optional plot which most people missed called “Captured!” which has an entirely different series of events unfold depending on whether you choose to have the player escape from prison themselves or wait for their friends to rescue them… and also based on which combination of your companions come to your rescue. It was the sort of plot with a stupid number of permutations that no sane level designer would agree to do, so of course my husband Craig was the one working on it with me. And he’s the opposite of a voice of reason. He’s more like, “What if we also had half a dozen different ways for the player to escape by themselves, and one involved making friends with all the guards?” 

BRIANNE: Oh yeah, you worked on “Captured!” My favorite pairing was Alistair and the mabari. Then you let the mabari run the con. ANYWAY… brainstorm sessions with the other writers are always fun. Generating lots of ideas, seeing what sticks, seeing which weird errant thought might spark something. I also had a lot of fun collaborating with Cullen’s cinematic designer, Sarah Hayward. We’d think up scenarios based on these little moments we wanted Cullen to have.

MARY: Okay, so Brianne is the one person on Earth who played it. And yes, the dog is a super con artist.

What did you like to listen to while you worked on Dragon Age?

MARY: I usually have a different playlist for whatever plot or character I’m working on. Varric has a lot of cellos, for instance. 

BRIANNE: Same! I have different playlists for different plots and characters. I listen to them on loop as I work.

Which team member(s) did you always want to call out as deserving of special praise?

MARY: The editors. I don’t even know how many vital things they do in order to ship a game. They make literally all the things work in our pipeline. 

BRIANNE: Agreed! Definitely the editors. They put so much heart and hard work into every single game. They deserve more praise than I can put down here. I’d also like to give a shout-out to Quality Assurance and the narrative-tools programmers—they are hardworking, patient, and awesome!

What do you wish fans better understood about your job?

MARY: We writers don’t always get what we want. I have written SO MANY MURDER MYSTERY PLOTS, YOU GUYS! And they never make it to ship! There are many, many reasons why the things we wanted to put in the game don’t make it in.

BRIANNE: Along the same lines, games are complicated. There’s a lot of moving pieces and a lot of people involved. 

What question do you wish we fans would stop asking you? (LOVINGLY!)

MARY: Why Varric is not romanceable. See above.

BRIANNE: Lovingly, I can’t answer questions like “Can you make X happen?” or “Can X character return/be a love interest/die/etc.?” Even if I know the answers, I couldn’t say anyway.

MARY: Or you do it, and it doesn’t make it to ship. Or it gets changed beyond recognition in the course of game development. On Dragon Age: Inquisition, I started out writing one plot about a siege in the Nahashin Marshes, and by the time the game launched had instead written two unrelated plots about time travel and a dance battle. I’m not even sure we had the Nahashin Marshes anymore? We had some completely different swamp?

BRIANNE: We had the Fallow Mire, which was in a completely different part of the world. I wrote a spooky plot for a ruined castle that also no longer exists in the game.

What does Dragon Age mean to you?

BRIANNE: Dragon Age is a world I can escape to and I have so much affection for the characters who live there.

MARY: I worked on this series for longer than I ever held any other job. “Dragon Age Writer” is probably going to be etched on my tombstone. 

Who is your favorite Dragon Age character?

MARY: This question is a trap. It’s like asking me to pick a favorite child. Whatever I say, Merrill is going to wind up crying and that is NOT OKAY.

BRIANNE: Don’t cry, Merrill! I love all of you!

Does your canon Warden do the Dark Ritual or ultimate sacrifice?

MARY: Ultimate sacrifice.

BRIANNE: Dark Ritual.

MARY: And that’s how you know Brianne is the evil one.

What do you name your mabari? 

MARY: Rabbit. Because that’s the “canon” name we came up with for the dog in Dragon Age: Origins for the brief period when we might not get a GUI to name him.

BRIANNE: Biscuit, after one of my childhood dogs.

What alignment is your canon Hawke (purple, red, blue, etc.)?

MARY: Purple is the only correct answer to this question, I’m sorry.

BRIANNE: Yeah, I’m Purple Hawke.

Which character do you feel is most misunderstood?

BRIANNE: Can mere mortals truly understand the Nug King?

MARY: I’ve got to say Lord Trifles Minutiae. There are probably perfectly valid, non-horrifying reasons he might be hanging out silently in your bedroom closet in Skyhold wielding a giant spoon. Probably. 

Who's your favorite villain?

MARY: Loghain

BRIANNE: Meredith.

MARY: Or wait, can I change my answer to, “Red lyrium?”

Who's your personal canon Inquisitor (race, faith, etc.)?

MARY: Human female. Sword and shield warrior. Doesn’t think she’s chosen by Andraste.

BRIANNE: Human female. She’s an archer and Andrastian, but doesn’t believe she was chosen. 

If you could live anywhere in Thedas, where would you live?

MARY: The Black Emporium. They’ve got that whole basket of free socks!

BRIANNE: The Storm Coast! The rocky shore, the grey sea… and it’s always overcast. I like overcast weather.

Who's your favorite Dragon Age romance and why?

BRIANNE: Honestly, I’ve liked a lot of them! Alistair was my first romance and he’s so sweet. He’s my main Warden’s romance (and I keep him a Warden… which makes the choice in Dragon Age: Inquisition extra tragic!). My main Hawke goes with Fenris. I love his voice. I’ve always enjoyed the romance aspect of BioWare games, so getting to write one myself for Dragon Age: Inquisition was exciting. 

MARY: I don’t usually play the romances in games I’ve worked on. I could only answer this question about Mass Effect. Or maybe Star Wars: The Old Republic.

BRIANNE: Wait, who is your Mass Effect romance?

MARY: Garrus, of course. I thought everyone was required to romance Garrus.

Mage or Templar?

MARY: Neither? I vote pirates.

BRIANNE: Oh no! Hey, Mary – would you and the pirates like to visit me on the Storm Coast?

MARY: I mean, where else are we going to hang out? We’re retiring there to open a tavern or something, right?

BRIANNE: Will it have Sing-quisition open mic nights?

MARY: I don’t think we could stop that from happening if we wanted to.

Is there cake at the party... or is the cake a lie?

MARY: There’s cake. Why wouldn’t there be cake? Who told you there was no cake?

BRIANNE: Oh, but I was hoping for pie.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

26 Burning Questions with BioWare's John Epler... (Dragon Age Day 2019)

This year for Dragon Age Day, we've been so lucky to have the support and input of the BioWare team, and when we shared a goofy questionnaire with them, we got some amazing responses!

Here was the reply from the intrepid John Epler, Narrative Director for the Dragon Age series...

What's your current mood?
JOHN: Hungry. Is hungry a mood?

What was your role (or roles) in working on the Dragon Age games?
I was a term tester on Origins, an Associate Cinematic Designer on "Witch Hunt," a Cinematic Designer on Dragon Age 2 and Dragon Age: Inquisition, and the Lead Cinematic Designer on DAI’s DLC.

What part of your work was most exciting for you?
The first time I saw something I built make its way into the public eye – which is to say, when I worked on Witch Hunt. I’d been doing QA up until that point, which was still a great job, but I didn’t get to create anything specific in a game.

Who are some of the unsung heroes in terms of game development jobs/tasks?
QA. I did two years in QA and it’s an incredibly challenging job. But honestly, support staff in general. So much of our job wouldn’t be possible without the people keeping the studio from falling apart.

What challenge was most scary or daunting?
Shipping DA2. It was a tremendous task and it was also my first project as a full Cinematic Designer. I learned a lot about myself, and about my work, on that project.

What was your most satisfying moment or contribution to Dragon Age?
"Trespasser." Specifically, the end scene with Solas. I worked very closely with Patrick Weekes on it, and I think it’s one of the best scenes I’ve ever been involved with. And it resonated with fans, which I always love to see.

What was a favorite team or collaboration moment for you?
Also "Trespasser." From beginning to end, it remains the highlight of my time on Dragon Age. Incredibly talented and passionate group of people, and we pulled off something incredible.

What did you like to listen to while you worked on Dragon Age?
A weird mix of hip hop and instrumental soundtracks. Lately, it’s been FFXIV and "Stranger Things," but previously I listened to a lot of the "Fringe" soundtrack.

Which team member(s) did you always want to call out as deserving of special praise?
I’m gonna take the cheat option and say ‘everyone who isn’t a lead or on Twitter.' There’s always this weird perception that the game is made by those of us with a social media presence, but everyone who works on a game deserves as much credit as anyone else.

What do you wish fans better understood about your job?
The number of people in the games industry who are paid to be ‘idea people’ is vanishingly small. Nearly everyone has something practical that they do in addition.

What question do you wish we fans would stop asking you? (LOVINGLY!)
"Is (Character Name) in the next game?" Or those kinds of questions. Y’all, I’m not going to spill the beans on anything.

What does Dragon Age mean to you?
Dragon Age is the franchise I came to BioWare to work on. That I got to be a part of its growth, no matter how small, is still pretty incredible to me.

How did Dragon Age change you?
Dragon Age marked the biggest decade of my life. I got married, had two kids, not to mention everything else that has happened over the past ten years. And through it all, I was on Dragon Age.

Who is your personal favorite Dragon Age character?
I don’t know if I have a ‘favorite,’ per se. There are some easy answers like Varric or Iron Bull, of course, but I’m going to go with Nathaniel Howe. I liked his arc.

Does your canon Warden do the Dark Ritual or ultimate sacrifice?
Dark Ritual. My Warden didn’t deserve to die.

What do you name your mabari?
Spike, after my (sadly deceased) cat who thought he was a dog.

What alignment is your canon Hawke (purple, red, blue etc)?
Purple, all the way.

Which character do you feel is most misunderstood?
Orsino. Kirkwall was a pretty terrible place, I can get where ‘screw it, monster time’ is an appealing option.

Who's your favorite villain?
Meredith. She was just the right mix of ‘understandable’ and ‘completely irredeemable.’

Who's your personal canon Inquisitor (race, faith, etc.)?
Male Elf Agnostic Rogue. I think even more so, now that he knows Solas is the Dread Wolf. Turns out ‘god’ is a lot of marketing.

If you could live anywhere in Thedas, where would you live?
Antiva. I feel like, if I were in Thedas, I’d be one of those people who gets killed by some world-ending catastrophe or another, so I’d want to be somewhere with a lot of wine.

Who's your favorite Dragon Age romance and why?
I’m always going to be biased towards Iron Bull. I’m proud of what we accomplished with his romance.

Mage or Templar?

Is there cake at the party... or is the cake a lie?
There is always cake. Preferably a poppyseed cake with lemon glaze.

How did your work as narrative director make a difference in the game story?
I’m the person who has the bird's-eye view on not only the story, but how the story interacts with every other part of the game. Beyond that, though, I work with an incredibly talented team, which makes my job pretty easy a lot of the time.

Last but not least, is there anything I haven't asked that you always wished someone would ask you about working on Dragon Age?
"Why do you keep working on Dragon Age?" To which my answer would be – because of the people it inspires and who inspire it. I get to work with some of the most incredible people in the world, and make games that mean so much to so many. I can’t imagine ever doing anything else for a living.

"Dragon Age: Dreadwolf" Predictions & Ponderings (and "What's in a Name?" Redux)

He doesn't call, he doesn't write, but finally, it looks like we might be hearing from Solas at last (2023?), as BioWare announces t...