Developer Interview: BioWare Corp – Jade Empire (XB)


Publisher: Microsoft / Developer: Bioware / Genre: Role-Playing / Release: 04-14-05
Jade Empire is BioWare’s latest massive Action RPG set in ancient China for Microsoft Xbox. With gameplay supposedly as deep as Morrowind or KoTOR and letting you have over 30 different fighting styles, Jade Empire has created a lot of buzz before it even hit store shelves. Inside Pulse’s Bebito Jackson recently had the opportunity to speak with the trio at the creative helm of the game, Ray Muzyka, Greg Zeschuk and Jim Bishop, to hear their thoughts on JE’s development and why they feel fans of BioWare’s previous titles have a treat in store when they pick up their latest epic.

BioWare Jade Empire Development Team:
Dr. Ray Muzyka-
(Joint CEO, BioWare Corp & Co-Executive Producer, Jade Empire);

Dr. Greg Zeschuk –
(Joint CEO, BioWare Corp & Co-Executive Producer, Jade Empire);

Jim Bishop –
(Producer, Jade Empire)

Bebito Jackson: Left and right Jade Empire has been receiving accolades throughout the gaming journalism community. In your opinion, why do you think Jade Empire has become one of the most anticipated games of the year?

Greg Zeschuk: Jade Empire is the first game we’ve developed set in an original BioWare-created world, and the creative freedom we’ve enjoyed on the product has allowed us to craft an amazing adventure with all of the features fans have come to expect from a BioWare game-great story, in-depth character progression, and a fantastic world to explore-but with some additional features that really round out the game well. We’ve blended a tremendously deep real-time combat system with the aforementioned features to create what we feel is our best title to date-our goal with each title is to make it better than the last-and we hope fans will agree.

Bebito: As mentioned Jade Empire is a completely new and original universe. As opposed to dealing with an established license like in KOTOR this allows a lot of freedom when developing the game, but what is one of the biggest challenges it has created for your team?

Jim Bishop: Balancing the fast-paced action of the real-time combat system and a strong story has been a big challenge for us in terms of storytelling. We have this rich world we want to explore, but we do need to keep the action flowing. We think our efforts have paid off, but it was definitely a learning experience.

Bebito: BioWare seems to be on a never-ending roll of quality game releases dating all the way back since MDK 2 for Sega Dreamcast. You have lots of fans for titles such as Neverwinter Nights and KOTOR. What parts of Jade Empire will stick out the most to previous BioWare aficionados?

Ray Muzyka: In Jade Empire, we’re continuing the BioWare tradition of presenting the best role-playing experience with a compelling story arc, character development, exploration, and exciting combat. We always aim to present something new with each game we create, and Jade Empire-with its real-time combat system and rich world-is no exception. The combat system is quite simple on the surface, but considering the sheer number and variety of fighting styles you can choose to learn over the course of the game, it is very deep once your character grows in strength, and combat can be rather strategic as you must work around your enemies’ defenses.

Bebito: Speaking of which. So, Neverwinter Nights? You know, that game you keep re-releasing as if your name was Capcom and its name was Street Fighter 2. Honestly, when’s the sequel?

Ray: We have recently released a number of Premium Neverwinter Nights modules through the BioWare Online Store at store.bioware.com-these are affordable adventures to extend the Neverwinter Nights experience. We have released three modules to date, with more soon to come. Neverwinter Nights 2 is actually in development at Obsidian Entertainment, developer of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. We’re providing the versatile BioWare Aurora Engine, along with some additional support, and we’re quite confident that they’ll do a great job on the sequel.

Bebito: Getting back to Jade Empire. We know that there are at least 30 different styles of fighting including creature transformations and certain styles that lean more toward the morality status of the player. Could you elaborate on how the fighting system works, and what influences helped to create the various fighting styles?

Greg: Fighting in Jade Empire features accessible controls on top of a robust combat system. Among the dozens of fighting styles your character can learn and upgrade as he or she progresses through the game are a number of martial arts, weapon, magical, and even transformation styles, which allow you to take the form of an enemy you’ve previously defeated. You can switch between the styles you’ve learned with a quick press on the D-Pad, allowing you to craft magnificent combo attacks from multiple styles. Many of our styles are based on real-world martial arts disciplines-we had martial arts experts and stunt actors on-hand to allow us to motion-capture hundreds of moves.

Bebito: As is quickly becoming a trademark of BioWare RPGs, the concept of “Good” and “Evil” plays an important role in Jade Empire. How refined or different is this system from what we’ve seen in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic? What type of effect will the player’s alignment have on your character’s appearance, your abilities, the story, the game’s world, etc.?

Jim: The system in Jade Empire is similar to that of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic in that your actions and dialogue choices may shift your alignment towards one moral extreme or the other, and the further you tip that scale, the more of an effect it has on your character’s appearance and relationships. However, Good and Evil are not as black and white in the Jade Empire-much as in real life. Your character may choose to commit an “evil” act, but his motives may be noble. You will often be given the opportunity to explain your actions in Jade Empire, and your motivation will play a major part in whether you follow the Way of the Open Palm or the Way of the Closed Fist.

Bebito: Jade Empire’s release was slightly delayed toward the end of development. Was this due to the revealed Jade Empire Limited Edition? Can you divulge any details on the Limited Edition’s extra character, additional combat style, and special content?

Ray: The decision to release the Jade Empire Limited Edition had no impact on the game’s development. We have aimed to create the best game we’ve ever developed with Jade Empire, and we decided (and Microsoft supported us in the decision) to take a little more time to polish the game to the standard we expect, and that our fans expect of us.

Monk Zeng is the exclusive character, which players will have access to, when they purchase the Jade Empire Limited Edition. His physical appearance is based on that of a classic monk-he looks really cool, and his Spade Staff is one of the most powerful weapons in the game. In addition to this new character, the Limited Edition features cool holographic packaging and an excellent “Making of” video produced by G4TechTV.

Bebito: You must have a lot of passion invested in Jade Empire. We know BioWare had a hand in recommending Obsidian Entertainment to LucasArts and then licensing the BioWare Odyssey Engine to them for development of KOTOR II. What made you decide to decline hands on involvement with a sequel to the popular franchise you helped create in order to branch off into something completely new? Is there part of you that wishes you had more direct influence over the development of the sequel?

Greg: We opted to focus on developing BioWare’s own intellectual property, and-having worked with a number of people there in the past-recommended Obsidian to develop the sequel to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. They did a great job with the game, and will also be building on our BioWare Aurora Engine technology to develop Neverwinter Nights 2. We have worked with a lot of excellent licenses in the past, but we decided to take time to craft our own great worlds like Jade Empire, Dragon Age, and our third unannounced title. We are also focusing a lot of resources on next-generation game-engine technology; our Technology Architecture Group (TAG) is currently developing the BioWare Eclipse Engine, which will power BioWare’s future titles for both PC and consoles.

Bebito: We know it’s a little early in the game to be asking, but with anticipation so high and initial feedback so positive is there any plan for a Jade Empire sequel? Possibly on Xbox Next?

Ray: We’d certainly love to take players back to the world of Jade Empire in a sequel. When and if that time comes, we’ll be sure to let everyone know!

Bebito: How thorough do you feel you have been with the gaming community? In other words, what is it about Jade Empire that you have been hiding from us? :)

Greg: I think we’ve said about all we’re willing to say at this point without revealing key story elements. :) The game is set for release on April 14, and gamers will finally get hands-on experience in the Jade Empire! There are lots of great surprises in store for them!