UPDATED David Gaider on Player's Propensity for 'Optimum' Choices in Dragon Age 2


A bit late on the uptake, but I just recently came across a post by David Gaider in which he explains the rationale behind the Dragon Age 2 quest “All that Remains”. Those who have played through the quest know the inevitable outcome: your mother dies. Not just any death, either: a particularly gruesome, unnerving death at the hands of blood magic. The remark by Gaider is as follows;

“The problem wasn’t that “everyone picked to save her”. It was that everyone thought they had to save her, and would reload/re-do the quest until the got the outcome that was perceived as the most optimum– even if the result when Leandra dies is more dramatic and has more of an impact on the larger story.

The quest isn’t about saving her, after all, it’s about putting a more personal face on the darker side of magic and the repercussions it can have on innocents.

If someone doesn’t like it, that’s fine. Up to you. But DLC is created to add content, not to skip it– and, no, there is no material anywhere to make this easy to implement. Dialogue after Act 2 assumes that your mother is dead. Period. Sorry, but that’s simply the way it is.”

All That Remains is one of the few quests whose outcome cannot be influenced and, personally, as someone who ended up having my sibling die on me too, shocked me to the core. I lost everyone, and it was my fault. In that sense, I can recognize that Bioware was effective in their intended outcome: to take away the ability to save everyone as an attempt to elicit a reaction.

It’s something that they’ve been toying with for a while, to be sure–for example, the suicide mission in Mass Effect 2 had the possibility of not only losing vital crew members, but also the possibility of Shepard himself dying. The big issue with that was that the way to avoid such a fate is easy to figure out: maintain a good relationship with your party members, make sure to get all their loyalty missions and, pick the roles that made the most sense for them in the final stage.  I ended up saving everyone, and, while I can’t fathom the idea of losing some of my favorite party members, I still recognize that the impact of such a loss would have probably made the game more memorable.

You can’t have it all. You can’t always get that optimum outcome, even if everything suggests that you might. Shit happens.

Still, this brings up some interesting things to reflect on. There is definitely an ‘optimum’ mindset that frames the way gamers play games. In a way, it makes sense: why would you try to get the “bad” outcome when you can get the “good” one? Or are people willing to take the “bad” outcomes if it means that it will result in a more intriguing premise?

Update: seems I missed this earlier post by Mary Kirby, where she lists alternatives that they considered earlier in the development of this quest.

    • Sacrifice a follower. Your romance, if you had one. Or whoever had the most frienship.
    • Make the player become a serial killer. You’d have to murder a number of innocent and sympathetic characters in order to restore your mother to life.
  • Let Merrill sustain the spell (possibly costing her attribute points) and keep Leandra in her horrible patchwork zombie state in a back room of your mansion. “


  1. Tom

    It shows the problem Bioware’s running into: they have created a world where we expect there to be a good choice and a bad choice, so we can pick the good choice the first playthrough, the bad choice the second playthrough. Unfortunately, their answer to this stale question is to not give us a choice at all, instead of trying to make every choice have elements of good and elements of bad.

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  3. OPHumanShield

    *Warning: Too long/ranting/probably spoiler-worthy.

    I don’t really feel like there’s a good solution to this problem, because it illustrates the great divide between narrative and interactivity. Your character has become a nigh-on divine being, a “g*d-d*mn omnipotent tyrannosaurus”, if you will. All of a sudden, the control you’ve had over the character for the entire game is ripped out of your hands so that the developers can ‘make a point’.

    Yes, bad things happen to good people. And its okay for that sort of thing to happen in games, as long as the developers establish early on that characters are expendable. This can be through game-play mechanics or story. When they pulled that little stunt with Hawke’s mother, they were effectively telling you that you weren’t really in control of Hawke, but instead borrowing the reigns from Bioware until they needed them back. The themes were already pretty heavy-handed in that game, and moments like that didn’t exactly help.

    Personally, I prefer the route Mass Effect 2 took. It was certainly possible for everyone to die, but it was also possible for all of them to be BDHs at the same time, based on your choices.

  4. I don’t like the idea of making it clear that characters are expandable from the get-go. Today’s gamer is too spoiled already, thinking he should be the one to call all the shots.

    Sometimes a little trauma is in order, to show that his god-like powers are kinda useless in the end (being unable to open locked doors should already indicate that, but people have already accepted this incongruity as a given), to be able to sustain the wellness of the script (this already reminds me of Ebert saying that if Romeo and Juliet were a game, it would have a happy ending… and therefore suck), etc.

    • OPHumanShield

      I can understand that, but the problem is that the definition of a spoiled gamer is entirely too subjective. But in terms of the tragedy game, I felt that the ending to Red Dead Redemption actually pulled it off beautifully. Rockstar presented an ending that made perfect sense both narratively and mechanically, specifically because you were allowed to maintain control of Marston through it all.

      It’s the same way that we have movies that depict the cards being stacked almost unfairly against someone (Precious, for example), as well as movies that are purely fun, escapist bad*ss fantasy (let’s say Die Hard). Both are equally valid approaches to the medium, which is why I find it so difficult to really choose a side on the subject.

      • OPHumanShield

        Wow, I really started to ramble in that second paragraph. Feel free to disregard and just treat the first part of the post as relevant.

      • Ha! RDR’s ending is really great! Not only because how the Dead Eye Targeting system heighten the sense of being defenseless but also because one certainly didn’t expect it as it was never clear John was expandable to begin with (though, in retrospect, one could sense this by the farm missions).

        However, that climax wasn’t successful for everybody. We are actually discussing RDR RIGHT NOW here at Nightmare Mode’s backlot so we can finally post a review about it and one of our members said he kept reloading the mission, thinking he did something wrong.

        That’s, IMO, the perfect example of a spoiler gamer: someone so used to something (in this case: to have his actions matter in games) that the very idea of that something not being true anymore (i.e. losing – even if mandatory) was incomprehensible.

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  6. OPHumanShield

    The saddest part is that this isn’t a new phenomenon, though it is more pronounced nowadays. The biggest example in my mind isFinal Fantasy VII.

    FF VII created a ‘hallmark’ moment with the death of Aeris (I use hallmark loosely partly out of bitterness, since Phantasy Star IV on the Genesis did is in a much more potent way with more limited tech). It was a moment that put lots of gamers in a denial so strong that they brought her back through the use of various cheats and workarounds. It bears repeating…gamers were so spoiled about what ‘was supposed to happen’ that they rejected developer intent and story canon and cheapened the story because they didn’t get their way.

    It’s the equivalent of ripping out the final pages of A Tale of Two Cities, and re-writing them so that Carton stages a swashbuckling jailbreak to rescue Darnay because it doesn’t make you sad like the big mean author intended.

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