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A new era: BioWare's art director talks Dragon Age 3, Mass Effect and next gen visuals

Neil Thompson on how choice of aesthetic can transcend technology

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Good to hear.

The press want a story, and so whether that's BioWare is no longer BioWare because EA has bought it, or because Ray and Greg are no longer there - the fact is the magic is still there, the same guys are still there and nothing has changed in that respect. The passion to write the games is what's important.

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What is the strength of Mass Effect's art, in your view?

It's a beautiful-looking game - a perfect example of a game that transcends its technology, visually speaking. I like the fact that the medium is being pushed to the point where the player now has a genuine emotional response to the characters and the story. It's an experience, rather than "I'm just going to play this for half-an-hour and shoot stuff". That's very compelling. When I came on board they were well into Mass Effect 3, and the sheer size and scale of the game was just incredible.

How do you explain the artistic vision of Mass Effect to the development team?

The team at Edmonton isn't vast, and the aesthetic of Mass Effect is pretty much well-known now - a combination of lots of different styles and inspirations from our art director Derek Watts, who is very interested in architecture. You'll see lots of nods to Frank Lloyd Wright [19th and 20th century American architect], Syd Mead [designer on Blade Runner and Tron] and all those guys.

Each discipline in the team will get together on a weekly basis and review the artwork, and everyone has input. Obviously Derek has final say, but it's more of a gentle nudging to the end. We have some extremely good concept artists who keep the game firing along and they know the look of the game. It's much easier to iterate than to create something from scratch.

What's in store for the next generation of consoles? Will the new technology allow you to achieve things that aren't possible on Xbox 360 and PS3?

Oh yes. Clearly we still hammer up against the limitations of the hardware on a daily basis and if you push those parameters back, as I'm sure the next-gen will do, we'll hit them again. I think the main thing is that the industry doesn't get itself into a corner where it becomes economically unviable to make a game. The last technology iteration caught folks by surprise - especially the number of people you needed and the skillset jump that was required to do the work that people expected. In the last generation the perception was that it was going to be a ten times improvement over the previous generation.

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For the next generation there will be a big leap, but it won't be as obvious. People will do things in a cleverer fashion - and I have to be careful here as there are non-disclosure agreements involved! I think they'll be better prepared, shall we say - but we can't see a ten-fold team increase again as the budgets would just be ridiculous. You'd have to sell 20-30 million copies before you broke even.

Can you tell us if the next Mass Effect title is a "true" sequel or a spin-off?

[laughs] Well, as you know the Mass Effect trilogy has been completed. This next one is being done at the Montreal studio and that was set up by guys from Edmonton, so the next game has definitely got the BioWare DNA...

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