Mike Laidlaw and David Gaider Talk Dragon Age Comics

dragonagecomiccover2During all the excitment of New York Comic Con this weekend I was lucky enough to score a few scheduled minutes with Mike Laidlaw, Creative Director of the Dragon Age series and David Gaider, the Lead Writer of all the titles.  They let me in on the scoop regarding their new Dragon Age comic with Dark Horse, and talked lore and even a little bit of porn with me. 

SG:  What made you guys decide to do a comic?

ML:  Comics are an amazing medium.   Video games are very visual in terms of having full characters and rendered sets and everything.  And we’ve already done novels.  David is on his third now which is coming out this December so we thought, well, cyber-comics. We have a really long and very good partnership with Dark Horse throughout the whole run of  Mass Effect.  They’ve worked with us on The Old Republic so they’re known partners  and they’re really big fans too which is awesome.  When they can sit down and say “okay so what’s up with the Qunari?”  and they want to know, you know you’re dealing with a really good partner.  So the end result is that we’ve been able to craft a story that adds to the lore and adds to the world.  Dave’s actually been writing it himself so you know it’s right from the source, and they’ve been backing that 100%.  It’s just amazing to work with them.

DG: When Darkhorse talked to us about what kind of comic book works when there’s a tie-in involved they said it needs to be relevant and needs to be something the fans are specifically looking for.  They don’t neccessarily want some side tales with characters they don’t know and that’s a really good point.  So when they talked to us about it first they said “Dave would you be interested in writing a comic?”  (David literally squees).  Well who wouldn’t be right?  They said, well we want it to be relevant and something the fans love so can we involve characters that they know and things about the world that maybe they’re interested in? So we have Alistair from Origins who is sort of the main character.  Isabela and Varric from Dragon Age 2 are teaming up with Alistair to sort of look into a mystery from his past.

ML:  Dun dun dunnn!

DG: Right? They go to Antiva which is a place i’ve always wanted to visit.  It’s much easier when you don’t have to create really expensive assets for it.  They’re looking for a witch of the wilds, one of Flemeth’s daughters.  So yeah, right there when I suggested that I said I think the fans would be interested in that, and I think that’s what Dark Horse is looking for.  And like Mike said they’re huge fans so it was a pleasure.

SG:  What is this new comic going to be called?

ML:  I’m not sure it’s going to have an official subtitle yet. It’s still being decided.  We’re basically still in the initial announce phase right now.  We may just simply go with Dragon Age #1 for Darkhorse and start from there, and then if we look at future issues we may look at subtitling them.  But it’s really key that people know and understand that this is a new beginning where this story starts and there’s some mean cliffhangers there too so we may even see more in the future.

SG:  You mentioned Antiva.  You have all these great places like Weisshaupt, Antiva, Val Royeaux and all those places.  Any plans to fit all those in somehow?

DG:  Back when I made the world we didn’t know where we wanted to put the first game so I tried to craft a bunch of areas and said “well I could write a story about that.”  The horrible part is then when you start having to choose exactly where your story takes place.  It’s like choosing among your children.  You love them all.  So we can’t possibly get to all of them.  So really it’s about okay now where do we go next?  In future games where do we want to go?  If I have a novel or comic book, what’s another place we can explore?  We’ve said a lot of times that the Dragon Age series as a property is about the world as opposed to one character.  So really it’s about slowly revealing more about the world.  So here’s a chance to take a look at Antiva and sort of explore stories, and some of these are gonna be smaller stories, you know.  A game is of course a huge story, but the more we can show of the world and the more we can introduce fans to it – the idea is that if we can do something like a novel or comic,  that it adds to the wealth of the lore that is out there about the world. So any fan that sort of follows everything will get more out of it.  That’s the case with the comic.  Anyone who read the first two novels, there is something in the comic for them.

ML:  There’s an “aha!”  And I think that’s pretty cool.  I remember actually reading it for myself and saying  Ahaha, yeah!  Good times.

SG:  So there’s a lot of Dragon Age fan comics out there as well as fan art, fan fiction and the like.  Have you looked at a lot of them?  How do you feel about those?

(They both laugh)

ML:  Well we have to be very careful about those.  As long as it’s a fan project it’s perfectly fine and frankly incredibly flattering.  Sometimes we get sent stuff and those are awesome.  It gets a little murky if it becomes a commercial thing and that’s kind of a bummer because of copyright law – such is life.   But in general I think it’s possibly the most flattering thing people can do is to spend their own time and their obvious, obvious skills putting it towards adding to their own view of the world we’ve helped create, and I just love it.  It’s so engaging to see them out there and you come to the cons and you see the outfits and costumes that they put hours, obviously hours, into and it just kind of validates the creative drive.

DG:  I find fan art and fan fiction interesting….and troubling. (laughs)  I guess I have a very personal connection of course because these are characters I created.  Seeing someone else take them and run off with them can be a little alarming sometimes especially if you’re looking through Tumblr and it’s like links, links AH A PENIS!  Oh no!  So it’s like Mike said.  At the same time I say run with it.  These are fans that have taken something you’ve created and they care about it so much they’re willing to invest their own time and energy into it so I say god bless.   Go create. Run with it.  I just don’t necessarily need to personally be right there….with the penis.

SG: I saw one comment you made on the forum like “Why would anyone think I needed to see Fenris porn?”

DG:  Well someone had actually linked me to it and said “Hey Dave you should see this.”  And here’s a link .  Oh cool.  AH!  No it’s cool.  Porn happens right?  Rule 34.  I’m perfectly aware of that.  You know your children are going to have sex lives.  Go have sex lives, but please for the love of God don’t tell me about it.

SG: And don’t send pictures.

DG: Yeah!  Exactly.

SG:  So I’m really excited about the web series, Redemption with Felicia Day.

DG:  Isn’t she awesome? If you ever get a chance to meet her you’ll be amazed because when I first met her I thought she can’t really be a celebrity that is that nerdy and into games. And no. Nope.  Exactly as you would think.  When I met her the first thing she said was “Fenris won’t have sex with me, what is the issue?”  And we had this long talk about, well you know, this is how it’s done and she was like “Oh that’s why! I slept with Isabela.”  Yes you did.

ML;  When we were doing initial planning for the webseries and Mark of the Assassin there was a discussion happening and she was kind of going deep.  She wanted to know about the Qunari.  She wanted to know about a number of things, and we kind of looked up after about twenty minutes and the marketing guys and the biz dev guys were all kind of passed out in the corner.  Even the executive producer was kind of there but a little stunned and said.  “Wow you guys kinda went to a dark place there.”

DG:  The information she was looking for – 

ML:  She wanted, like, quotes from the Qun.

DG:  Yeah I mean these questions would have been at home on our forums, you know?  She knew exactly what we had said and what we hadn’t said.  She was asking about Seheron and the marketing guys were like “maaaybe you want to talk to Mr. Gaider and Mr. Laidlaw.”

SG:  That brings up another question I have.  How do you guys keep all of the information in this world straight?  Is there some master list somewhere that says “Alistair likes cheese?”

ML:  Actually one of our editors is a former news guy and he used to cover murder cases. Now he has the much more difficult task of actually keeping our IP documented and straight.  It’s a very, very densly hyperlinked wiki with reference images and so on.  It’s all internal so it’s complete with all the spoilers and things like that.   It’s very useful when youre dealing with a project like Dark Horse or Funimation with the anime they’re working on because we’re able to kind of share info with them as they need it and say okay here you go, an encyclopedia format written by a guy who is very good at parcing the data.  And then on top of that really, Dave and I really know it probably the best of anyone.  Dave may know it the best.  Dave has been there since the beginning, I’ve been there since Origins and we’re kind of able to keep things on the right track and a big part for us is educating partners and members of the team as to what’s right and what’s not, like “no no no the elves are not ethereal and they don’t all live in trees.”

DG:  The serious answer is that it’s hard to keep it all straight.  I may know it really well but I’m not the only person working on the project.  The bigger the team gets the more outside partners we get working on the projects.  And it’s happened.  We have little pieces that slip in and you’re like oh my god I didn’t even see that. It’s inevitable.  The thing we have to keep straight is that just because it’s a fantasy genre game it doesn’t mean that everything that is fantasy will fit.  So Mike and I sort of establish the limbo bar under which all content must limbo.  And if it can’t, then it doesn’t fit.

SG:  Are the Warden and Hawke ever going to come face to face?

ML:  You’re not the first person to ask that.  So we have to be exceedingly careful when we make any kind of content like that because those are the players’ characters.  With their own custom looks, their own background and mood.  There’s a real danger that you’re going to get it wrong more than you’re going to get it right.  That’s basically it, because players invest a lot of time and a lot of energy into their characters.  When you have situations where a good 60% of people are dead on the Warden front, you have to be asking yourself, well how much effort wuold we put into a scenario that by nature say half the players wouldn’t see.  And then you say, well if we have to balance what we spend on it vs. what quality would result and that’s gonna hurt it maybe it’s better not to do it, and leave it as something that happens off screen.

DG:  Or like maybe there’s a bug, like we had the bug with the Zevran import.  So a player has no way of knowing that’s a bug but they think we intended that.  So if Zevran was dead in their playthrough but he shows up anyway, and they come to you and say “you ignored the fact that I killed Zevran.”  Well no. we didn’t mean to do it that way, but it happens.  Bugs will happen.   It gets trickier the futher we get away from Origins.  

ML: I think in short, if we did it we’d do it very carefully. Surgical precision.  And until we’re comfortable that we can do it and get it exactly right  in a way you’re gonna please everyone -and the vast majority of characters especially when it’s their characters – we probably would hold off until we have it.

DG:  And if we do it I wanna make sure that I cause the maximum amount of emotional anguish.  Important.

SG:  You love those anguishy moments don’t you?

DG:  Bittersweet.  There’s nothing better.

SG:  So are griffons really extinct?

ML:  Officially everyone believes they are.  The Chantry teaches us that griffons are dead.

DG:  And everything The Chantry says is absolutely true.

ML:  You’ll notice most of the lore in Dragon Age is deliberately presented with a “well as far as we know…” or based on the point of view of the common knowledge of the world.  So everyone believes griffons are dead and that’s absolutely true for most people.

DG:  The thing about the lore, like Mike said is that it’s presented with a point of view.  The thing I like to keep in mind when it comes to the lore is that whatever you read, chances are it’s a little bit true and a little bit wrong, no matter what it is.  I think when it comes to the griffons the safe thing to say is that what’s been said about them is not the entire story.

SG:  When can we expect to see this next installment of the story?

ML:  It’ll be early next year. I don’t have the exact date yet, but early next year.

Below is the official cover for the comic featuring Alistair, Varric and Isabela.  I for one am crazy excited for this.  What about you guys?  Let us know in the comments!


About the Author: (@Badpie24) Writer & Editor

Jen lives in Seattle and likes to play games and then write about them. Her all time favorite games include the Mass Effect series, Dragon Age: Origins, The Witcher, World of Warcraft, and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. She likes coffee and wine and tacos, but not all together because that would be gross. Cats are awesome.

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