How much were you able to reuse assets from the previous game? For those that you did reuse, how much reworking did you end up doing?
SH: Most of the assets that have been carried over from Dragon Age: Origins to DA2 such as the Spiders, Shade, Revenant, Rage and Desire Demons have remained pretty much the same but they have all undergone some small improvements to their textures and in some cases improved topology to not only enhance the shapes but also allow for better movement and smoother animation.
You obviously have a lot more experience now working with the game engine and with the Xbox platform. What new graphic elements or technologies have you been able to bring into play?
SH: One of the main focuses on Dragon Age 2 was to raise the visual standards of the game on consoles. By making the assets with consoles as the main platform, it forced us to find creative solutions that would best handle the budgetary restraints. This enveloped all parts of the character creation process from concept to modeling to shaders and animation. By working with all the different departments involved on DA2 including art, animation, programming and design we’ve made drastic strides in improving the quality on the consoles. For the PC there have been some additional efforts by the graphics programmers for cards that feature DX 11 such as more dynamic lighting, additional tessellation on terrain, diffusion on depth of field and contact hardening soft shadows. All around, things are looking fantastic and I think no matter what platform you choose the results speak for themselves!
How much customization are we able to give Hawke? Since the player character is now only human in this game, did you take the opportunity to let the player have even more freedom at character creation?
SH: Since so much care and effort went into the creation of both the male and female versions of Hawke, we wanted to make sure that they kept their iconic image. If you play with iconic Hawke, the only change you can make is removing the blood mark. We also wanted include character customization as we did in Dragon Age: Origins and allow the player to create a unique appearance and make their very own Hawke. Since in DA2 you play the role of a fully-voiced Hawke, the entire character art team worked closely with animation to improve the topology of the face base mesh in the customization tool, allowing for a more emotive, fluid and believable character. On top of this we added more hair and beard variations and improved upon all the shapes and choices available in the character generator allowing for more precise and specific facial choices. The end result is that when a player chooses to make their own Champion of Kirkwall they will have all the customization without losing any believability or functionality from the one we’ve put a lot of effort into.
Since the story has shifted from multiple player character origins to just focus on Hawke in this game, let's talk about the evolution of that character. How did you arrive at the initial concepts for him, and how did that evolve into the final character?
SH: The team wanted to tell a specific story for Dragon Age 2, around an important character within the Dragon Age universe; the Champion of Kirkwall. With this character being such an important part of the game, we wanted to make sure that he had a unique, recognizable identity. Since we are in a fantasy setting the character started with a Mage background, but we wanted to avoid the stereotypical caster role, running around in a colorful robe conjuring magic missiles out of thin air. Additionally, being a mage in the world of Dragon Age is not a favorable thing. We wanted to show that this character had to be a badass survivor that could handle the constant oppression an apostate can encounter -- a rebel and revolutionary so to speak -- who can handle himself on the battlefield with more than just spells and trickery but also a staff with a blade at one end to give him an “edge” during the inevitable melee encounters. We felt that if we imbued the Champion of Kirkwall with elements of a lone wolf, it would help identify his unique, rebellious character. The lone wolf displays strength in solidarity but is also a figurehead who is quite capable of leading a pack. You can see these wolven references in the darkened color pallet, the elements of a fur pelt around the neck, and a wolf-inspired staff. From there we added strong, simple, angular shapes (following our new art direction), borrowing elements from the new Darkspawn as trophies signifying his success in surviving the attack on his home town of Lothering. We showcased the strength he gathers from his bloodline with the blood marks on his face and arm, which we presented in the “Rise to Power” trailer. From there we then designed Warrior and Rogue variations of the Champion, with an emphasis for each version on showcasing the special abilities of their class. You can instantly see the difference between the classes once you start up the game and dive into the combat of the prologue.