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BioWare's new IP is "amazing", EA gave us "complete creative control" - studio founder

But you "have to focus on the bottom line"

Dr. Greg Zeschuk used to be BioWare's big cheese, but nowadays he writes about beer for a living. Don't know about you, but I'd certainly patronise a real ales bar run by Zeschuk. Just think of the tales you'd hear over a glass of unbearable fluid. Stories about Mass Effect 3's ending. Stories about how BioWare evolved from the pre-eminent RPG company to a somewhat bashful standard bearer for proportional representation in videogame plots. And of course, stories about currently undisclosed projects, such as the next generation Mass Effect sequel or BioWare's new IP, announced the day Zeschuk and co-founder Dr Ray Muzyka announced their resignations.

Discussing his departure with GamesIndustry, Zeschuk had nothing but good to say of both parent company EA (which acquired BioWare along with now-defunct Pandemic in 2007) and the studio itself. "Life is a series of choices, and certainly looking back at the big picture there's no way that I would change what we did at BioWare whatsoever," he said. "It turned out, in many ways, fabulously.

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"I really do feel that the folks there are going to make some amazing stuff. Even around our departure we were seeing the stuff coming down the pipe and it was amazing. So it's in good hands and I'm really happy with where it's headed; it's exciting.

"And I think Ray commented on this, but it's going to be really cool to play a BioWare game where you don't know everything about the story and characters already. It'll actually be a nice surprise rather than a fulfilment of design documents."

BioWare has yet to share anything on the subject of its brand new universe. Not much is known about the new Mass Effect either, other than that it will retain the original trilogy's key "pillars" - "diverse alien races, a huge galaxy to explore, and of course rich, cinematic storytelling" - while pursuing "new directions in gameplay and story".

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In the words of series executive producer Casey Hudson, "we want to be able to give fans an opportunity to get back into the world with these things you've come to know and love about the Mass Effect experience but start something fresh and new - a new way for you to explore the whole universe in Mass Effect."

The game apparently shares "systems" of some kind with the forthcoming Dragon Age 3: Inquisition. Shepard won't return as protagonist and it's possible the game will be a prequel, perhaps exploring the prehistories of certain races.

As for EA, Zeschuk reckons "people make a lot of assumptions about us and our feelings and how they treat people, but honestly we were treated really well. I made a lot of friends there, and I respect the people there are ton."

He noted that "we were also very fortunate to have a lot of influence at high levels within EA" but says "I'm really not much of a company guy; I prefer working with a small creative team on something that can have a big impact but I prefer not to do it in a giant, complicated environment."

Zeschuk characterised the relationship between companies as one of relative freedom. "I remember this really distinct moment where - it was probably five or six months - we were just starting to wrap our head around how we worked with the company," he said. "And it took months for this formal period of joining EA, and learning how everything works, and when the initiation was done, we were sitting around asking how do we do stuff.

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"It dawned on us, you just do it. That was the biggest revelation, that rope that EA gives you; they don't second-guess you, they don't say you shouldn't do that. We had complete creative control over a lot of it; some fans didn't like some of it and some of it was experimental, quite frankly.

"The one caveat is at the end of the day for any company you have to run a profit, so you have to be thinking of things that actually make you profitable. So while you're taking all these creative risks in trying crazy stuff you almost have to simultaneously focus on the bottom line. The top line is not enough.

"In some ways, being independent I would say we had to be more conservative - being part of a big company, you could be more aggressive and try stuff. I think that's something people [struggle with] when they join EA; they do too much or they do too little."

EA was recently voted the worst company in America by readers of the Consumerist, much to Peter Moore's displeasure. Presumably, Zeschuk wouldn't agree - but could it be argued that BioWare enjoyed a privileged status with the publisher, thanks to its immense pedigree? Your thoughts are needed, below. Oh, and while we're talking - here are seven possible starting points for a hypothetical Mass Effect prequel.

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