At NYCC we got a chance to talk with the Dragon Age team about the new comic book.
David Gaider, lead writer, and Michael Laidlaw, creative director, are in charge of Bioware’s popular video game series Dragon Age. AT NYCC Dark Horse announced they would be publishing a new Dragon Age comic. We got the chance to talk with them about it.
Kitty’s Pryde: Huge fan of the game. Not a very big gamer at all. The thing about Dragon Age that attracted me was the depth of the story. From a fan of the story point, the game aspect is almost a negative. In Dragon Age 2 when Anders blew up the Chantry, I so wanted to kill him but I needed him around because he was my healer. When you have to integrate a story and a game like that, how do you make it work, with a character like that where you don’t want him around but gameplay-wise you have to keep him around?
Michael Laidlaw: I think in a lot of ways that’s the real tension, in the choice, understanding that you have your own moral feelings, urges and desires and yet there is a practical side of you that is going “I need them”. How many leaders do you think have had to make that exact choice. I’ve got this team that did something wrong but I really still need them in the field. I think in a lot of ways that’s actually a real choice . Do I put tactics & utility ahead of my own morality. I think it adds to the game.
David Gaider: That was our purpose.
KP: I liked Sebastian but he left when I chose to keep Anders around. I liked him but didn’t need him as I wasn’t using him as an archer.
I like the idea of it coming to comics because of the depth of the story. IDW’s didn’t really appeal to me. It didn’t feel like Dragon Age. Why is this new effort at Dark Horse different?
ML: When Dark Horse approached us and said they wanted to do a DA series, we already had a very good working relationship with them. They had worked on Mass Effect. They proved that they loved our games, were huge fans. They had been talking to us before even Origins had shipped so we knew it was pretty genuine. They came to us and said that they want to make sure it’s authentically Dragon Age, make sure it adds to the canon, adds to the lore and would love it if someone from Bioware could work on it. That’s where Dave stepped in working as, not only the lead writer for the game, but the primary writer for the comic book itself so you know it’s written from the source.
DG: What we wanted to do was to not just have me work on a Dragon Age tale but not just have a story that takes place in the universe but is something that is relevant to the overall story that we’re telling with the Dragon Age series, so someone that goes to the comic book will learn some significant pieces of lore that you wouldn’t get anywhere else. Dark Horse told us that what they had found was successful, when working with tie-ins with games or any other properties, is having it be relevant. I think that is maybe what was missing from the IDW series. It was a story that had nothing to do with what else was going on.
KP: It just didn’t seem to fit the universe because it was so different
So what is this comic about? What is the story?
DG: It involves three characters that fans are familiar with. Alistair, from Dragon Age: Origins, and Isabella and Varric from Dragon Age 2. They team up. They’re investigating a mystery from Alistair’s past. They go to Antiva, a place we really haven’t gone yet so that’s kind of cool. They are looking for a Witch Of The Wilds, one of the daughters of Flemeth. Right there are some pieces for anyone that has followed the novels or the games can sort of say “okay, I know who those people are, I know what that’s about, that’s kind of intriguing.” We get to explore some avenues that we really haven’t had the chance to look at before so that’s really exciting.
DG: It takes place after Dragon Age 2’s timeline. It’s the three characters going off to do a particular mission. I can’t say what they’re doing exactly because that will come up during the series but the relevance will be quickly apparent.
KP: Why those three characters? Alistair doesn’t have much of a connection in Dragon Age 2 depending on the ending you use.
DG: You can meet him in DA 2.
ML: There’s also the fact that Alistair very likely met Isabella in the Pearl in Denerim. Isabella is a very good bridging character between the two series and the best part is a moment I won’t spoil where Varric.. you kind of wonder why Varric is there and well he loves a good story so of course he’s along for the ride.
KP: Varric’s gotta be everywhere.
DG: Alistair is the central character, who the story is told around. Why Alistair? Because I like Alistair and the fans like Alistair, so why not?
KP: It follows the canon ending of Dragon Age: Origins?
DG: Canon’s tough. Because we can’t do a variable thing like we can in the game, we had to pick one and in this version Alistair is the king of Fereldan.
KP: Who’s going to be doing the art?
DG: Chad Hardin.
KP: He does some good work on Boom! Studio’s The Traveler.
ML: We love his style and the thing is the initial DA sketches felt right, they felt very close to the style we had done. Nice use of detail without overburdening the imagery with it. It’s pretty stunning so far.
DG: Our director at Dragon Age had the chance to work with Dark Horse, who knows comic book artists, and they offered some artists they thought might fit this story and Dragon Age’s style and settled on Chad. The big difference was that Chad had a great style with character, with personality. Dragon Age is so character driven. Take Alistair, for example, there’s a lot of roots to mine. It’s not just about the action, it’s a character driven tale.
KP: That’s a trait of the game. I spent more time going around and making the characters interact then I did actually playing the game. I had to change out my party to go to different areas to see what everyone said.
DG: Not everyone’s going to do that, but a lot of people did. You’re not alone. That’s where I come in. For me, when I write Dragon Age it’s all about the story. The followers are important especially when dealing with topics, like saving the world, because those are wide concepts. When I’m trying to introduce a player to what our world is about, it’s hard to show them that in the space of a game so you have the followers as ciphers. Like in Dragon Age 2 we had followers that represented each group that was important. You had Anders to represent the struggle the mages went though. So you change some of the issues of the world and the followers are microcosms of the larger world.
KP: How many issues is the series?
ML: Six will be the first series.
KP: Do you have any plans for another one following?
DG: We’ll look at reaction. We’ll look at how well it’s received and I would love to do more. Dark Horse has been a good partner. They’re very excited to do more. It’s all going to depend on how the first launch goes.
KP: With the game you have to, now, follow Hawke’s storyline but with a comic it seems like more time can be spent with the followers, develop their stories more.
DG: It’s a more linear type of entertainment which means we can get into characters that are a little more developed and more specific without making a player feel like we’re stealing their time.
ML: When you have a novel or a comic book, you have the advantage where you don’t have to have a player character as the interactive point of view character. You can go with others. It’s not like we’re forcing a character on the player. We can take important characters and have them perform offshoots of the story. They’re familiar to the players. You play the games, you love those characters so seeing them in their own tale is just as interesting.
KP: Any interest in using a character like Tallis and Felicia Day? That seems like it would be a natural character to bring into comics where Felicia Day has the following of the Guild.
DG: I can’t speak to it yet, obviously, it would be a matter of how it’s going. But looking at initial reactions, Mark of the Assassin and Redemption, people love Tallis especially with gamers wishing she could stay in the party the whole time which is really really good. It’s super gratifying for us. I think her character, just like Varric, like Isabella, they’re all very important to us, very special.
ML: Really the hard part was trying to decide among all the stories we could do, which one were we actually going to do.
KP: The books are coming out digitally. Why digital and not print?
DG: We think that digital is a media that our players are familiar with. The core Dragon Age fan base is very much online, very aware, so it seems the logical place to launch it to help make it familiar to them. Dark Horse, of course, has been making great strides with their apps and everything to make sure they’re delivered digitally very well. They said “we’d love to do a digital exclusive with you guys and that fits.”
KP: The big question is when does Dragon Age 3 come out?
DG: There’s been no official announcement of DA 3. It’s been discussed certainly. I can’t confirm or deny anything about Dragon Age 3, long term the release date is less important to me then our general approach which is a couple of big things we want to add in. Exploration coming back, bigger areas and spaces for people to explore. The wonder of going over a hill and going “whoa, what’s that down there”. That’s got to come back. Probably a bigger scope overall, but still heavy focus on characters. My view is that we have a lot more subtle reactivity to the choices your making so as you’re playing the game you always feel like it’s coming back to bite you in the ass.
KP: That’s what I liked about Dragon Age. Every choice you make has an impact somewhere down the line.
DG: I think we can go further then we have.
ML: To possibly appeal to a larger audience, what we should be looking at is people that like stories and not just people that like games.
Thanks to David and Michael for their time. Look for Dragon Age available from Dark Horse digital on February 22nd, 2012.
Go to the Pryde’s forums and join the discussion about the upcoming comic.