In what ways can we expect the visual style to change for Dragon Age 2?
Shane Hawco (Lead Character Artist): There are many distinct things that were done with the entire art style of the game. One of the things that we really wanted to change from “Dragon Age: Origins” was to give the creatures and characters a more distinctive physiology, style and identity that ties them closer to their background and ethnicity.
The elves, for example, are not just smaller, skinnier humans with “knife ears”; they now have a closer connection to their natural and organic background. In order to do this we elongated their form, amplified their more curvy and organic features and gave a majority of them bare feet which directly connects them to their environment. We also reflected these ideas in the facial structure; they have a more oval base with soft curved features on the cheekbones and jaw lines, and their smooth forehead transitions into the small subtle nose between the enlarged eyes. Overall they look more fawn-like, which is a very clear connection to their forestry origins.
The elves were not the only ones who got this treatment - the other non-human races did as well. For example, the dwarves contain more angular elements that are similar to dwarven architecture, further anchoring them to the ground. These elements are carried to the face where they have a more chiseled jaw line, angular nose and squared off eyes.
What was your main goal from a graphics standpoint going into DA2? How would you say you've done toward that realizing that goal?
SH: One of the main goals on “Dragon Age 2” was to improve the lighting on the characters in order to help display the extra effort and care that went into the creature and character redesigns while at the same time make them feel like they are anchored to the environments that they are in. We also added gibbing in DA2 to a lot of the creatures and characters to help with the new flow of the improved combat system. Nothing makes you feel more badass than to shred an enemy into exploding chunks of meat! There are also vast improvements in the character heads such as improved facial topology for more expressive emoting, improved facial texture density and a more realistic eye shader. We made smaller graphical tweaks like self-shadowing, moving hair and cloth simulation to help further engage the audience with the characters and story of Dragon Age 2.
What was the transition like going from Origins and its downloadable content to Dragon Age 2?
SH: It was fast and aggressive… but we made some very smart decisions by using the “Dragon Age: Origins -- Awakening” expansion pack and other DLC such as “The Golems of Amgarrak” and “Witch Hunt” to help develop some of the creatures featured in Dragon Age 2. The Harvester and Varterral (or Stryder as we like to call it) make a return and were always planned for the sequel. By using the DLC modules from DA:O as a proving ground for them we could not only test the creative waters but also give the fans a preview of what we are up to as well. It’s been a very successful process which I’m sure we’ll be continuing in the future. (Hint, hint)
Now that you can talk about it, how has the technology changed in DA2 and what has that freed you to do graphically?
SH: Lighting was a major focus for improvement on Dragon Age 2. Along with this we changed the compression settings for the textures, allowing us to get more performance of out the maps used for the characters and allowing for more creatures on screen at one time. This also allowed us to have a higher visual quality per asset, making key assets really stand out.