Dragon Age 4 was officially revealed last December after plenty of speculation that Bioware was working on the sequel, and after reporting on Anthem's troubled development earlier this month, Kotaku has now published a piece on the development of Dragon Age 4 as well.
In the Anthem report we found out that Dragon Age 4 started life as Project Joplin, but was then restarted under the Morrison codename when resources were moved to help with Anthem. This reboot happened in October 2017, and the game is now in development at the Edmonton office.
The team reportedly felt they were making good progress with Joplin though, nailing down the tools and the scope with ideas that excited the studio. This was after a troubled development for Dragon Age: Inquisition too, which had issues including technical shortcomings of the Frostbite Engine (something that affected Anthem too); the multiplayer mode; and shipping on five platforms. Key details were finalised in the last year though, with crunch in 2014 leading to the finished product; the result of what the studio calls 'Bioware magic'.
Executive producer Mark Darrah and creative director Mike Laidlaw (who left Bioware in 2017) reportedly told the team that they'd made mistakes during Inquisition's development, and that things would change in the future, with the focus being to deliver a clear vision to the developers. After the Trespasser DLC was released, the team split into Dragon Age 4 and Mass Effect: Andromeda.
With Joplin the team had tools and production pipelines to use from Inquisition, which they hoped to improve, prototyping ideas often. The changes included maintaining regular on-boarding documents and procedures so members of the team could get up to speed quicker, as well as a decision-making mentality where "making the second-best choice was far, far better than not deciding and letting ambiguity stick around while people waited for a decision," according to a source close to the project.
Another source explained that Joplin was something smaller in scope that Inquisition but "much larger" in terms of player choice, reactivity, and depth. The game would follow a group of spies in the Tevinter Imperium, and the goal was for choice and consequence, with fewer fetch quests than Inquisition. The team aimed for areas that changed over time and missions that branched depending on your decisions, including "non-standard game overs" with particular paths. The plan was to let players perform actions like persuading guards without the writers hand-making every scene either, and the team felt positive about these possibilities.
One topic discussed by sources explains that many in Bioware felt like outsiders at EA due to the differences between their games and other franchises like FIFA and Battlefield that sold much better, with staff wondering how much EA cared about the narrative-driven games they were making.
After the team at Joplin had been moved to help with Andromeda, they were then moved again to help on Anthem, with a smaller team starting work on Morrison using Anthem's tools and codebase, forming the game we know now. This is planned to have a live service element, and started from scratch, with management allegedly saying that they wouldn't be burdened by money already spent on Joplin. Matt Goldman - art director on Inquisition - took over as creative director, and Darrah became executive producer.
In terms of specifics about how this live service will work, we still don't know details on that. Some sources have said that it's "Anthem with dragons," while another said:
"The idea was that Anthem would be the online game and that Dragon Age and Mass Effect, while they may experiment with online portions, that's not what defines them as franchises. I don't think you'll see us completely change those franchises."
Another source added that the main story would be designed for single-player and the multiplayer elements would be there to keep people around for post-launch content. One idea discussed for multiplayer includes companions controlled by guests via drop-in/drop-out co-op, as well as quests that can change based on the entire player base's decisions.
Sources add that the game is still likely to change a lot, especially since "Dragon Age games shift more than other games," and one concern directed at Bioware is whether they can change the culture that led to burnout, crunch, and staff suffering during the development of Anthem, as explained in the original Kotaku report.
What do you want to see from Dragon Age 4?