This week saw the release of BioWare: Stories and Secrets from 25 Years of Game Development, an extensive book that serves as a retrospective on the famous studio’s development history. There’s plenty to learn from it, including the existence of some early concept art for the next Mass Effect. One of those things isn’t quite new, but it serves as a good reminder of one of the most astonishing facts of the video games industry: Dragon Age 2, a Good Game, was somehow made in a mere nine months.
I’ve mentioned this before, but here it is in writing. #DragonAge 2 was made in 9 months.
Such a crazy impressive feat. Hope they never have to do that again. pic.twitter.com/rkOKMQ01iP
— Ashe⁷ (@ladyinsanity) November 18, 2020
Ladyinsanity, well-known among the Dragon Age community for her many YouTube videos on the series, tweeted a photo of a page in the book discussing the game’s development cycle. Dragon Age: Origins had the longest development period in BioWare’s history, which makes Dragon Age 2 as the shortest all the more unsettling to think about. Total development on the sequel lasted roughly a year and a half.
At first, Dragon Age 2 was going to be an expansion for Dragon Age: Origins. Then, it became a stand-alone expansion, which wouldn’t have required players to have Origins to play. A few months into its production, EA told BioWare that, because expansions like that don’t sell well, it’ll instead be a sequel. “So suddenly it became Dragon Age 2, and we had to make it even bigger, although we still had only a year and a half,” says David Gaider, who was the lead writer on the project. Production officially lasted nine months, while also requiring the team to support live content for Origins at the same time. The team crunched all throughout the holidays to finish development for the 40-hour game in January.
Gaider says the writing team had no time to review the main plot. Creative director Mike Laidlaw had pitched the idea of three acts, which Gaider went along with for the one presentation he did on the story. After it was approved, the team rushed to write the story, which he knew would have no oversight. “Everything was going to be a first draft. Because nobody had time,” he says. “I sat down with the writers and I said: ‘Look, here’s the conditions we’re working under. A lot of what we’re putting out is gonna be raw. We’re not going to get the editing we need. We’re not going to get the kind of iteration we need. So I’m going to trust you all to do your best work.'”
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It’s utterly mind-boggling. As Gaider says, “Somehow, Dragon Age 2′s whirlwind process resulted in some really good writing,” despite all the corners that were cut and the enormous stress every developer went through. The characters of Dragon Age 2 are often praised for how incredible they are, which would be impressive enough without knowing they were all basically first drafts.
Dragon Age: Inquisition’s also tumultuous and draining development has been well-documented, particularly in journalist Jason Schreier’s book Blood, Sweat, and Pixels. Hopefully, the development of the next Dragon Age game isn’t putting anywhere near as much pressure on the developers.
While we know little of the next Dragon Age, Kotaku reported in 2019 that its first iteration, codenamed Joplin, was canceled in favor of prioritizing development for Anthem. At this year’s Gamescom, BioWare showed some concept art of the game. General Manager Casey Hudson said it is still early into development.