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BioWare’s Past, Present, and Future

Much controversial news pops up in the gaming world throughout the year, from Day 1 DLC to sexist comments at a PAX after party. However, some companies have been in the critical spotlight more so than others, one particular being BioWare. Dragon Age II, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Mass Effect 3 have been in the news regularly and at the forefront in discussions since last year up to present time. BioWare’s games are not only popular as news topics, but the developer’s relationship with Electronic Arts, as well as the recent departure of co-founders Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka, have caused the gaming public to keep a close eye on the future movements and decisions of the company. Many see BioWare's franchises going down a dark path (will Mass Effect continually become more shooter, less RPG?); others see these big changes as a way for BioWare to reinvent themselves, gain newfound respect from new and old fans.

BioWare has found much success in the market for roleplaying games. The developer has mastered writing engaging plots, heart wrenching storylines, and characters that seem almost real. There are not many games that give you the option to develop a relationship with a fictional character and have your decisions consequently affect said relationship (i.e, major plot choices, Renegade/Paragon, and dialogue wheel options). Games such as Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights shaped the early image of the company, and, eventually, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic--shortly followed by Jade Empire--made BioWare a household name.

Fans and casuals will remember looking at the back of his or her game’s boxes, seeing the symbol and name for Pandemic Studios, an independent developer founded in 1998. Pandemic eventually partnered up with BioWare in 2005, but lost its own branding when the partnership was bought by Electronic Arts in 2007. Only BioWare retained its name and became a division under the powerhouse publisher. Since the acquisition, BioWare has had a very clear vision statement, which Dr. Ray Muzyka told Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo: “Create, deliver and evolve the most emotionally engaging gaming experiences in the world. That’s the vision for the BioWare group across the four studios, and they all have different ways to approach that.” The experiences the developer delivers are definitely emotionally engaging--not many games make me excited when a favorite character makes his or her first appearance (Garrus Vakarian, I’m looking at you). 
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The science fiction roleplaying game--and one of my all-time favorites--Mass Effect was released shortly after the BioWare/EA merger in 2007. Dragon Age: Origins followed in 2009, and in January 2010, Mass Effect 2 (wait...how can you have a game if Shepard dies in the first 10 minutes?!). The growth of BioWare and the merger of the medieval MMO Dark Age of Camelot developer’s Mythic Entertainment to BioWare in 2009, three additional studios were added outside of BioWare’s home base located in Edmonton. The Austin, Texas location created and continues to work on the MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic. Another studio in Montreal, Quebec helps with current projects, such as working on Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer portion while Edmonton developed single-player. Now, BioWare consists of seven studios (Edmonton, Austin, Mythic, Victory, Montreal, Ireland, and San Francisco).

Mass Effect 3 would be the holy grail for BioWare under Electronic Arts; however, the game did not live up to the hype (per fan criticism) and many fans cried foul with complaints of false advertising. Numerous gaming news outlets regarded the game very highly, as it received over 70 perfect scores. However, shortly after the release of Mass Effect 3, Electronic Arts was voted the "Worst Company in America" by The Consumerist; however, this “award” could be a direct effect of the negative press BioWare received for its game and should be taken with a grain of salt.

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Mass Effect 3 was one of the most anticipated games of the year and an expected game-changer (literally) in games that provide players with choice. Released in March 2012, after being delayed from a November 2011 release, it was the final chapter in the Mass Effect series. After this game, there would be no more Shepard. BioWare proudly exclaimed that “the decisions you make completely shape your experience and outcome”. That what you did in the first Mass Effect would come back to haunt you, whether you thought your decision was Paragon or Renegade. Instead, the endings lacked the promised variety (and will forever be referred to as the blue, red, or green endings).

After a few months of speculation, and numerous conspiracy theories (the most popular being the Indoctrination Theory), BioWare finally addressed the the criticisms to Mass Effect 3’s ending. Dr. Ray Muzyka said, in an open letter to fans and players, it was “incredibly painful to receive feedback from our core fans that the game’s endings were not up to their expectations.” A trilogy that gives players control and ownership over his or her story, the reactions and emotions that have been provoked due to the endings is understandable. The fans are passionate. In response to the reactions the BioWare team received, they began pouring over industry press, forums, Facebook, and Twitter (a lot of conversations amongst team members and fans took place here). The developer’s solution? Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut DLC. A more “fleshed out experience” for fans of the series, the “Extended Cut” was created to answer questions and give closure to the end of this particular story in the Mass Effect universe. In the end, the views pertaining to the endings of Mass Effect 3 appear to have evened out, as the majority are not completely outraged or threatening to boycott BioWare.

dragon age iii: inquisitionDragon Age: Origins was a big hit for the developer with its classic roleplaying elements and medieval/fantasy-based storyline. The company took a turn with Dragon Age II by changing the combat and dumbing down a lot of the features. More often you will see fans asking the developer to re-make the game or act like it did not happen. BioWare finally announced the next chapter in their medieval fantasy RPG series, Dragon Age III: Inquisition. Mark Darrah, the Executive Producer on the Dragon Age franchise, spent a lot of time speaking and meeting with fans to find out what they wanted in a new game in the series.

In a letter to fans on Inquisition’s official website, Mark Darrah introduces himself, gives a brief history of the work he has done for BioWare, which leads up to the Dragon Age franchise where he has been the Executive Producer since before Origins. For about two years the team has been working on the third game in the series and began “the bulk of [their] efforts about 18 months ago” to get fan feedback in order to make a game true to the story and series. Minimal information has been made available, but we do know that the team working on Inquisition is comprised of BioWare veterans and new developers, as well. In addition, the team is working on a new engine that could allow a “more expansive world, better visuals, more reactivity to player choices, and more customization”.

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When I first saw the news that Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka were announcing their departure from BioWare, I will admit that I was immediately nervous. I was unsure what direction the company would take and was--and may still be--bracing myself for the worst. Even though Greg and Ray may not have been completely immersed in some of the franchises their company has created, their ideals, goals, and values were represented through those that produced the company’s best work. What if Mass Effect began spewing out titles every year? Even seeing a fourth Mass Effect is in production makes me weary, but I trust Casey Hudson and his team to make it unique and separate from Commander Shepard’s journey. The Dragon Age series has had a somewhat troublesome past with mixed reviews for Dragon Age II. With the third game, Inquisition, in the works, fans are skeptical, but hopeful to see the series regain its original magic and feel with regards to Mark Darrah addressing the fans in an open letter.

BioWare is not going to stop developing new projects in the world of gaming. Aside from adding on to both the Dragon Age and Mass Effect universes, the company is looking to build a game from the “bottom-up” with the newest technology in gaming. The project will be overseen by Casey Hudson, who will also be tending to the new Mass Effect project (Blasto the Hanar Spectre spin-off, PLEASE!). Like Greg and Ray said, they “built BioWare to last” and the company is not going anywhere for some.


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