Thread: Dragon Age
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Old 10-08-2009, 12:00 AM   #99
I bent my Wookiee
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I'm not a big fan of the DLC concept. To me it just offers too much of an excuse to nickel and dime customers. Things like the infamous horse armour and EA charging people to unlock content already on the disc for example. I do get some of the justification from the dev's viewpoint though. It's a way to get a more consistent stream of new content to the endusers and at a lower price point, both of which in theory should be good things. It's the execution that has been questionable in the past.

As far as Dragon Age goes, one of the devs over on the official forums made a number of posts about the reasons behind having first day DLC. As you can imagine, plenty of people over there were asking questions as well.

Originally Posted by David Sims, DA Technical Designer
The process of shipping a game is a gradual series of hardening and locking down. The world needs to be solidified so that the plot structure can be formed. The plot structure needs to be solid so that the plots can be written. The plots need to be written so that they can be scripted. The plots need to be scripted so that they can be tested. The plots need to be tested so that they can be voiced. The plots need to be voiced so that they can be staged and given cinematic polish. The cinematic polish needs to be finished so that it can be tested. Everything needs to be locked down so that performance testing and optimization and eventually disc layout and certification can be done.

Now, things donít always work perfectly, and changes often have to be made to things which were assumed to be locked, which causes a ripple effect and lots of work for everyone. You need to stop changing things at some point so everything that depends on them can be done. DLC is a separate product, so it doesnít have to be tested and verified as part of the final build, it doesnít have to be accounted for in the disc layout, and it doesnít have to be in the game when it goes through official certification. It has its own schedule and its own verification process. And letís not forget its own budget, because ultimately games are a business and manpower is limited by money.

To make the console ports possible, the content of Dragon Age was locked down in the spring. It wasnít possible to add new content past that point, and the VO lockdown was much earlier than that. The game was still tested and improved with bug fixes, stability and performance improvements etc, but adding whole new adventure like Wardens Keep? That would have pushed the release date back. The PC version had a very long time after content lockdown for testing and final polish, which could have been cut short to ship that version earlier, but it was decided to ship it simultaneously with the console versions for a variety of reasons. But thatís a separate issue.

Could we have taken people from the DLC team and put them on the console version to speed the porting process up? Not really. Porting content requires a lot of programmers and not very many designers. We had a surplus of writers, tech designers and cinematic designers and even artists, so we put them to use. If anything, DLC is taking away from potential future projects, not from Dragon Age: Origins.
Originally Posted by David Sims, DA Technical Designer
First, it's decided that a game has to ship on a certain date. Unless you're going to delay the game, that can't change. You then start working back from there.

The manufacturer needs the final build and disc layout with enough time to print and ship the game, so you need to be completely done the game by that earlier date.

Now to ship a game, you need to go through publisher certification and if youíre on consoles you also need to go through the console manufacturerís certification. These things take time, so that gives you an earlier deadline.

You have to prepare for that certification process, so you set a date where you can't make any changes except fixing things that would cause you to fail certification.

Before that there's a date when you can't fix any bugs except ones that have been approved by a triage group, so the game can be tested in a stable form and you don't introduce problems at the last minute.

Before that there's a date where you can't add anything new so you have enough to test and to fix bugs on what's there.

And it goes on, to earlier and earlier lockdown dates.

The process of shipping DLC is independent of all of this. DLC is much smaller than a game, and it's tested and certified independently and much more quickly, so it's not bound by the above dates. You can work on DLC right up to and past ship without effecting the release date.

If it's done, you could release the DLC for free, which would essentially make it a day 1 patch, but it absolutely could not be on the disk. That's pretty close to what we've done with Shale, as an incentive to get people to create an account and learn how to use the download service. To ship all DLC for free however ignores the fact that the DLC is made to be sold. The people working on it are paid by a budget that is only approved on the basis that there will be sales in return.

As for firing the designers and hiring more programmers, the workforce isn't that flexible. Finding good talent takes time, and firing skilled employees because they donít have enough work in the short term is folly.
There are a few other posts about it as well, in this thread and elsewhere in the forum, but what it boils down to from what I can see is that the console versions dictate what can be put on the disc to a large extent. And as the dev alluded to, things like workforce distribution and of course money play a part as well.
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