Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Hippocratic Game Design

Tom Endo | 4 Nov 2008 12:56
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"Our studio's original mission statement was to deliver the best story-driven games and through that process to engage the world, to engage all our players emotionally in our games," says Muzyka. Whether it was the narrative breakthroughs offered by Mass Effect or the ever-present morality systems that originated with Baldur's Gate, these games are notable for the great lengths to which they go to emotionally invest the player in the experience. To produce games like this, deeply affecting pieces of entertainment, requires a vision well beyond the collective of overgrown adolescents that often characterize the industry at large. It demands the influence of two individuals who have had the opportunity to relate to people in a fundamentally personal way.

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Muzyka and Zeschuk's experiences in the medical field have carried over into their roles as business leaders as well. Zeschuk says that, like videogame development, "medicine is a team endeavor." Ray also points out that crucial to both professions was "recognizing you may not know everything, but that it's okay, you just ask for help." Ray attributes part of BioWare's initial success to accepting this reality from the outset. "With our first two titles no one had ever made a videogame before. We just assumed, 'We don't know what we're doing, but we're going to figure it out and try to make a great game.'"

Their medical careers also serve to keep the rigors of the game industry in perspective. "The challenges you face developing videogames aren't life threatening like some of the medical stuff you do. So it really makes some of those game challenges seem a lot less dangerous," says Zeschuk. There is a similar phrase that seems to have spread over much of the working world: "We're not saving lives, it's just [insert profession of choice]" has become a limp platitude used after stupid but forgivable mistakes. But to hear the idea confirmed by a doctor, who has lately become a leader in a particularly vital business, lends it some weight and significance. For Muzyka and Zeschuk, the process of developing a videogame is akin to practicing medicine in that they are both processes larger than one doctor's abilities or one designer's talent. "[Medicine] shows you how important all the stakeholders in a process are" says Muzyka.

Listening to Zeschuk and Muzyka discuss the videogames they have been playing (a list that encompasses most of the major releases from the past six months), I was struck by their overwhelming sense of confidence in the identity of BioWare. Instead of delivering a diatribe on the failings of other games, they talked about game after game that had impressed and inspired them, from Metal Gear Solid 4 to the browser RTS LEGO Mars Mission - CrystAlien Conflict. They're keenly aware of the line between influence and imitation - BioWare's projects will always remain in that same pantheon of games that Muzyka and Zeschuk currently enjoy.

For Muzyka and Zeschuk, individual accomplishments or particular influences for a game take a backseat to the collaborative nature of their craft. BioWare has grown far beyond their two personalities. It has developed a perspective that stays solely focused on the games while avoiding myopia and tunnel vision - an outlook with an obvious clarity that their games reflect. It's fueled by purpose and commitment and tempered with empathy. The same traits people expect to find in the very best physicians.

Tom Endo hopes to one day visit the West Edmonton Mall and eat a Cinnabon. He'll also visit BioWare, if they'll have him.

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