Recently, on our trip to Edmonton to check out Dragon Age 2, detailed in our Dragon Age 2 Hands-On Preview, we were able to sit down with Matthew Goldman, art director for Dragon Age 2. Matthew and his team have been working hard on some of the visual changes and overall theme creation for the Dragon Age Universe. Here's a look at what he had to say about Dragon Age 2:
Curse: How much actual cinematic and cut scene content is there in Dragon Age 2?
Matthew Goldman: A substantial amount. That's got to be almost a quarter of our game, maybe 6-7 hours worth? There's so much VO work, so many trick camera shots, and custom scenes.
Curse: Can you talk about the art style, your inspirations, and how those took shape in Dragon Age 2?
Matthew Goldman: We ran some comparative analysis on Dragon Age: Origins, and there were a few things that really leapt out at us:
1. Our style was fairly generic, it wasn't really very well differentiated in the marketplace.
2. The themes that we were using in the art style were not in line with what the story was about. The game is a cautionary tale, and what happens in the game is that the physical manifestations of peoples imperfections are realized; ie The Blight, the wars, mages as abominations, etc. So we started looking at cautionary tales like the Triumph of Death, and Throne of Blood. They're tied together by the same thematic element, that mortal man is frail.
3. The third thing is that our engine is great at some things, and not great at other things, mainly because of the demands of the game.
So, what we tried to do is narrow down an art style that was unique, technically possible, and that would allow us to create rules that would allow artists to re-create these theme no matter what they were working on, be it a hand-held or a movie or something like that.
Curse: So in this game you really set the standards and principles up that you'll use for new titles, expansions etc?
Matthew Goldman: That's exactly right. There really wasn't a philosophy before, or a set of objective criteria that you could take something and say "Is tha Dragon Age?", art is really that scientific. We've established a vocabulary on the team that really doesn't let us be self indulgent, instead we say "What's right for the game? What's right for the character? What's right for this environment?".
Curse: In Dragon Age: Origins, there are some big cities, and prosperous regions, but when you step into Kirkwall you get this immense feeling of seriousness, this city is truly peaking, and massive, what was the inspiration behind creating this zone?
Matthew Goldman: For the Low-town areas I worked with Dave Gaider (Senior Writer) and we invited a history for Kirkwall. I brought up certain visual themes, and he wove that back into the DA universe. Specifically for this area what it's supposed to look like, for example to get the high walls, it was all previously excavated, so you'll notice all kinds of mining themes in the area. There's a post-industrial look, and what I was looking at was monolithic stone churches in Ethiopia, where they found these stones, and hollowed it out, and turned it into a church. It has an incredibly unique look, similar to the temple of Petra in Star Wars. We were looking for a similar style.
We are the MOST amateur of Geologists, but we also tried to come up with a stratigrophy of the area, which layers of rock were where, and that's how High-town came into existence. We figured millions of years ago something could have erupted and left a mountain, it's totally non-scientific, but it gave us the tools we needed to make it work.
We also have a visual metaphore, the rich people are on the top-of-the-hill kind of thing.
Curse: In regards to rivalry and friendship, you can really tell in this franchise, based on the movements of characters faces, their thoughts/feelings about your interactions with them. Can you give us an insight into what it takes to achieve that?
Matthew Goldman: That particularly was a lot of work. The art director here is in charge of animation, technical animation, level building team, character team, and the UI team. That was obviously a group effort. The face system in Origins was really good, it was one of our most successful elements. We wanted to better differentiate the races. We did that we could build unique animation rigs for each race, so they have a more unique look. For Dragon Age 2 we decided to re-build all the faces and the topology, like the poly strings around the mouth and eyes, and we added more control points to the face, and then someone specifically managed lip-syncing for the entire project. For each sound in the language that person had to make a shape, and then the software interpolates.
Dragon Age 2 is due to release March 2011, for more information visit: http://dragonage.bioware.com/