Mike Laidlaw leaves Bioware

Didn't see it posted anywhere here, but it seems that Dragon Age Lead Dev Mike Laidlaw has left the company after 14 years, having worked on Jade Empire, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect (Twitter post - https://twitter.com/Mike_Laidlaw). It kind of sounds like he might have burnt out, since he's apparently not going to another job, and plans to do some Twitch streaming and playing other games.

I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, he was one of the lead devs on my favourite game of all time (Dragon Age Origins), but on the other, he played an even bigger role in DA2 and Inquisition, which I found disappointing. Not sure what this means for the Dragon Age franchise overall, but Mark Darrah (head of DA team) has tweeted that another DA game is still happening (https://mobile.twitter.com/BioMarkDarrah/status/918601537600987136).

DA has been shelved since David Gaider left Bioware. Back in the very old Bioware forums he was really the only knight defending DA when people bashed it.

The odd thing is that they were hiring staff for a new DA game, but all those job listings are gone now. I think it was high level positions too, or atleast had a high experience requirement. Either they got filled, or the project is getting retooled. Laidlaw's suddent departure could also point to the latter.

Wouldn't be surprised if this is a soft restart on the project as a whole. Need to develop a new formula, that A, is popular, and B, heavily facilitates microtransactions and longevity so people buy those MTs.

MC1980:
Leading us to Bioware and their last 2 games, Inquisition and Andromeda, as those two and Anthem are basically what people should count as the current 'batch' of projects to be analysed together. Andromeda was critically panned, and sales weren't overly great, so Bioware Montreal was gutted and folded into another EA studio in the same building. Inquisition itself had a bafflingly positive reception, but sales for it seem to be far more questionable. The only qualifier used for it was "our best launch" which in itself can mean a lot of things, it having a very tepid presence in NPD charts shows that the game might not have done super well by itself.

Inquisition was also a game that had a strong release but quickly began foundering in complaints that it was too grindy, too much like an MMO and just a wee bit shallow for what was supposedly a story driven RPG. Personally I got the sense that DAI was the prototype for possible future Bioware games and when it started catching flak for its' many flaws, EA and Bioware saw the writing on the wall. You can sort of see it with Andromeda and how it fixed a lot of the worst elements of DAI, while still retaining some of its' core parts that created a grindy and rather boring gameplay loop.

MC1980:
I doubt it's a coincidence that Andromeda's studio and post launch SP content(there wasn't any planned before release in this case, but y'know, dlc finds a way) was shitcanned after the poor critical reception, despite having a more noteworthy presence in revenue charts than Inquisition. Seems to me like the goal wasn't purely sales, but rather a strong brand that's popular with critics in Bioware. Even way back when, Anthem was viewed as the big money product by Bioware, all these other ventures were sideshows. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that priorities were slightly different for them. Rather, Andromeda was supposed to follow Inquisitions footsteps to positive reception. DAI itself was greenlit before Anthem(or MEA), but its protracted development lead to it kinda taking on a different role next to Anthem. DAI at first was one of the 'oh we learned so much from skyrim' type games, remember.

I think the entire analysis of Andromeda supported the idea that it wasn't a disaster, but it wasn't the strong, solid reboot that EA had hoped for. Instead it was middling, with old time ME fans being split on whether it was a good reboot (or ME) and the newcomers not catching on as hoped. Had it come out the game flying and blowing people away, it would no doubt have gotten a batch of DLCs (just look at how many hooks there are for DLC, like the Quarian ark or several notable NPCs being around and creating mischief), but as it was EA decided to cut its' losses and re-think their approach to the (still strong) ME brand.

All in all, Anthem seems to be the best match, vision wise, for the kind of gameplay that Bioware is churning out in this generation of games, if only because the multiplayer aspects makes it more similar to games like Destiny and the Division. Games with fairly sparse open worlds serving as the backdrop for encounter based shooting gameplay. It works in multiplayer because the downtime is used for socialization, whereas it just becomes a slog between the good stuff in singleplayer.

Guarantee that theres a "management thought cloud development team" ie - try to work out what makes us money, who are trying to work out how to do one thing:

Get themselves out of the f**king hole they dug themselves into with ME3 and bring back Shepherd and the team. They're going to do a Masterchief... because it made them bank (despite ME3 being an awful, awful letdown!)

KaraFang:
Guarantee that theres a "management thought cloud development team" ie - try to work out what makes us money, who are trying to work out how to do one thing:

Get themselves out of the f**king hole they dug themselves into with ME3 and bring back Shepherd and the team. They're going to do a Masterchief... because it made them bank (despite ME3 being an awful, awful letdown!)

All they need to do is make one ending canon, they've done that with Dragon Age, so it should be obvious to them.

It'd most likely be Destroy and they could just have Shepard wake up "I had the weirdest dreams, they felt like they were real."

I am sure there will be vast disagreements here, but Bioware has never equaled the two best games of Baldurs Gate and Knights of the Old Republic as far as the story. The first Baldur's gate was like an onion that unraveled slowly as you went, and you had no idea that you were a part of such a huge overreaching narrative. KOTOR has the reveal that was wonderful. In my opinion, they just were never able to reach this again. Also BG was old school low level DND. It really took you back. I wish they could get back to their roots with and get a Greyhawk or FR license and do another isometric game. There have been many valiant attempts over the years with Temple of Elemental Evil and the recent Path of Eternity, but nothing has hit the original Baldur's Gate. And we all want another single player KOTOR.

votemarvel:
It'd most likely be Destroy and they could just have Shepard wake up "I had the weirdest dreams, they felt like they were real."

Now I kind of want that to happen, just to see the massive fan shitstorm over the use of such a lazy writing cop-out.

Bioware's basically unrecognizable at this point. Pretty surprised Casey Hudson ended up returning though.

I get the sneaking suspicion that it's DNA has been completely assimilated by EA's.

Fappy:
Bioware's basically unrecognizable at this point. Pretty surprised Casey Hudson ended up returning though.

I get the sneaking suspicion that it's DNA has been completely assimilated by EA's.

Yeah, who knows what's going to happen to Bioware going forward? Was Casey Hudson brought back to right the ship and bring the company back to its roots? Or was it just a cash grab?

MC1980:
DAI at first was one of the 'oh we learned so much from skyrim' type games, remember

I still maintain that Skyrim destroyed Bioware. Bioware was the best company on the planet Earth at making confined, linear story-driven RPG's. Their model was the opposite of Skyrim's approach to an RPG, i.e. huge open world, sandbox, minimal story, use your own imagination.

But, and this is all just speculation, I think some decision-makers looked at Skyrim's ridiculous sales figures and put pressure on Bioware to go in that direction. Nevermind that Bioware had no experience making that type of game. Then EA said, hey, what about this Frostbite engine here? It makes beautiful landscapes. People at Bioware said, yeah, it does, but it doesn't do anything else well. EA said I don't care, figure it out. And nevermind that one of the reasons Skyrim is so popular is because of the 3rd party mods, but the Frostbite engine can't be modded. Meanwhile, much of the talent at Bioware said fuck this and left.

The result was DAI, an ugly bastard child of a forced copulation between old school classic Bioware games and Skyrim. And I haven't played much of MEA, but I understand that it's basically DAI in space.

DAI defenders will point to its Metacritic review score, but I maintain that this is the perfect example of reviewers rushing to get their article out before really spending time playing and digesting the entire game, and it was a huge game. DAI's landscape graphics were absolutely drop dead gorgeous, so it makes a great first impression. The Frostbite engine specializes in that. And those reviewers probably didn't slug through all 500 tedious side quests. Plus, I'd add that, at the time, DAI was the most goddamn politically correct game ever made, so I think it was lauded by critics for that. The backlash came a month or two later from players who, you know, played the game in its entirety and realized that the game was actually not so great. It was tedius and shallow.

So I'm not holding out much hope for a return to Bioware's glory years as the undisputed king of Western RPG's. The company appears to be a directionless shell of what it once was.

Kerg3927:

Fappy:
Bioware's basically unrecognizable at this point. Pretty surprised Casey Hudson ended up returning though.

I get the sneaking suspicion that it's DNA has been completely assimilated by EA's.

Yeah, who knows what's going to happen to Bioware going forward? Was Casey Hudson brought back to right the ship and bring the company back to its roots? Or was it just a cash grab?

I think Casey was brought back on because Andromeda's development was such a train wreck. It's likely that due to management leaving/getting shuffled around they lacked direction and leadership in key areas of development. Since Casey has a long history with the series and the company, they probably offered a lot of cash for him to come back and fix their shit.

Kerg3927:

But, and this is all just speculation, I think some decision-makers looked at Skyrim's ridiculous sales figures and put pressure on Bioware to go in that direction. Nevermind that Bioware had no experience making that type of game. Then EA said, hey, what about this Frostbite engine here? It makes beautiful landscapes. People at Bioware said, yeah, it does, but it doesn't do anything else well. EA said I don't care, figure it out. And nevermind that one of the reasons Skyrim is so popular is because of the 3rd party mods, but the Frostbite engine can't be modded. Meanwhile, much of the talent at Bioware said fuck this and left.

The result was DAI, an ugly bastard child of a forced copulation between old school classic Bioware games and Skyrim. And I haven't played much of MEA, but I understand that it's basically DAI in space.

DAI defenders will point to its Metacritic review score, but I maintain that this is the perfect example of reviewers rushing to get their article out before really spending time playing and digesting the entire game, and it was a huge game. DAI's landscape graphics were absolutely drop dead gorgeous, so it makes a great first impression. The Frostbite engine specializes in that. And those reviewers probably didn't slug through all 500 tedious side quests. Plus, I'd add that, at the time, DAI was the most goddamn politically correct game ever made, so I think it was lauded by critics for that. The backlash came a month or two later from players who, you know, played the game in its entirety and realized that the game was actually not so great. It was tedius and shallow.

My speculations actually go the other way. Remember the Bioware game that came right before ME3, which at the time was rumored to be the most expensive game ever produced? The game which was supposed to marry the Bioware narrative to a whole new genre? Do you remember Star Wars: The Old Republic? My creeping suspicion is that EA looked at player retention numbers, time played and similar metrics and got the idea that the MMO-style open world with quest hubs and loads of stuff to do around the map has way better player retention and time investment then the ME or DA series had. At the same time, a majority of Bioware's staff just came off development of a MMO and thus had experience making one.

Because there's so much in ME3, DAI and MEA that just reeks MMO. From quests that barely get any set up, has no real narrative and concludes poorly to an overabundance of randomized loot all over the place and weirdly tacked on crafting systems. Chances are that EA wanted more of the MMO-style gameplay because it gets them nice metrics (for comparison, ME3 took me 30 hours to complete, DA:I took me 110 and MEA 50) that can absolutely be interpreted as consumers engaging a lot with the product and thus increasing the chance that they will open their wallets for DLCs and microtransactions. The fact that such a large part of Bioware staff had spent so long on an MMO (rumors, once again, have it that most of their writing staff ended up on SW:TOR at various times) also suggests that the influx of staff that knows how to do MMO-style could outnumber the few people who still remembered how to do single player RPGs, which would explain why DAI and MEA felt so very MMO even when they weren't trying to be, such as in making every single hallway about 2 times too big.

I am not saying this is what happened, but it makes a lot of sense to me. SW:TOR was a huge investment and a huge manpower hog and EA probably wanted to do the most they could out of the experience gained from making it. Skyrim might be big, but SW:TOR is way bigger in all respects, as befits a MMO. DAI is also big, but it is big in that weird MMO-style instanced massive areas way and its' quests are more MMO-grind then they are the (relatively) narratively anchored storyline quests of Skyrim.

History repeats itself. When all the people who made Bioware worth acquiring are gone, will it still be Bioware? Another set of franchise IPs that lay dormant because the suits up top don't really understand what made them appealing to their player bases?

It almost seems like there's room for a weird kind of forensic pathology here- analyzing what makes the lifeless, hollowed-out shell of a Westwood or an Origin differ from the shell of an Atari or an Interplay.

Gethsemani:
My speculations actually go the other way. Remember the Bioware game that came right before ME3, which at the time was rumored to be the most expensive game ever produced? The game which was supposed to marry the Bioware narrative to a whole new genre? Do you remember Star Wars: The Old Republic? My creeping suspicion is that EA looked at player retention numbers, time played and similar metrics and got the idea that the MMO-style open world with quest hubs and loads of stuff to do around the map has way better player retention and time investment then the ME or DA series had. At the same time, a majority of Bioware's staff just came off development of a MMO and thus had experience making one.

Because there's so much in ME3, DAI and MEA that just reeks MMO. From quests that barely get any set up, has no real narrative and concludes poorly to an overabundance of randomized loot all over the place and weirdly tacked on crafting systems. Chances are that EA wanted more of the MMO-style gameplay because it gets them nice metrics (for comparison, ME3 took me 30 hours to complete, DA:I took me 110 and MEA 50) that can absolutely be interpreted as consumers engaging a lot with the product and thus increasing the chance that they will open their wallets for DLCs and microtransactions. The fact that such a large part of Bioware staff had spent so long on an MMO (rumors, once again, have it that most of their writing staff ended up on SW:TOR at various times) also suggests that the influx of staff that knows how to do MMO-style could outnumber the few people who still remembered how to do single player RPGs, which would explain why DAI and MEA felt so very MMO even when they weren't trying to be, such as in making every single hallway about 2 times too big.

I am not saying this is what happened, but it makes a lot of sense to me. SW:TOR was a huge investment and a huge manpower hog and EA probably wanted to do the most they could out of the experience gained from making it. Skyrim might be big, but SW:TOR is way bigger in all respects, as befits a MMO. DAI is also big, but it is big in that weird MMO-style instanced massive areas way and its' quests are more MMO-grind then they are the (relatively) narratively anchored storyline quests of Skyrim.

Interesting. Yes, I remember SWTOR. I played it for a while. There's probably some truth to that.

What makes me think that Skyrim was a major influence is the fact that they actually said that it was. They name-dropped Skyrim in their interviews and marketing leading up to DAI's release. It's obvious to me that the goal of DAI was to get those millions of people playing Skyrim to buy DAI. They thought Skyrim was the way of the future, and they felt like they had to fall in line with that.

But Skyrim is unique. A phenomenon. I still can't explain its popularity. I was bored to tears and lasted a week playing it. But millions and millions are still frigging playing it and obviously loving it.

Mark Darrah, Bioware - November 2014 (just prior to DAI's release):

Skyrim changed the landscape for role-playing games completely. I mean Oblivion probably sold six million units, basically that range, Skyrim sold 20 million. So that, to some degree, changes everything.

Now the expectations of your fans, they're changing too. People age, they typically have less time for games, so it changes their expectations in terms of gameplay segments. It also results in some nostalgia. So they may become even more firm in their attachment to previous features. Now suddenly you have 15 million people that have basically had the first RPG they've ever played as Skyrim. They have totally different expectations of what storytelling is, what exploration is, and I think exploration is really where we've seen the biggest change.

Games haven't been this big in ten years: Baldur's Gate II was was this big, or close to this big. It's not just Bioware, really nobody was this big - games were getting smaller and smaller. I mean look at Uncharted, that's a four hour experience. There's nothing wrong with that, it's an amazingly polished four hour experience, but it's not a big experience. Whereas if you look at role-playing games from the late 90's, I mean Daggerfall is 65,000 square kilometers.

The hardware has brought back the ability to do big again and I think that's what's bringing role-playing games back to the forefront. What we've traditionally seen is that as a console generation turns over the dominant genre has changed. Shooters weren't the dominant genre a generation ago, it was racing games. If you go back before that, to the Playstation 1 era, it was actually role-playing games. I think that's what we may be seeing here. I don't know that role-playing games will be necessarily dominant but I do think we may see open-world exploration games being the dominant genre of this generation.

http://www.criticalhit.net/gaming/how-skyrim-influenced-dragon-age-inquisition/

Here goes another one.

I got a lot of respect for the man when he addressed the DA2 issues, it was a time of salty fans and lies from Chris Priestly, not to mention the memetic David "Awesome Button" Silverman rampaging around, so that took courage.

Also huge thanks for Jade Empire.

Chimpzy:

votemarvel:
It'd most likely be Destroy and they could just have Shepard wake up "I had the weirdest dreams, they felt like they were real."

Now I kind of want that to happen, just to see the massive fan shitstorm over the use of such a lazy writing cop-out.

It'd annoy a lot of people but it is the easiest way, though it would require some good writing in order to pull it off and I'm not sure Bioware have it in them these days.

 

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