The end of an era at BioWare

I doubt it was an accident that BioWare made Dragon Age III: Inquisition official on Monday. They probably wanted to build up a little bit of goodwill before the next bit of company news broke a day later, when BioWare founders Ray Muzkya and Greg Zeschuk both wrote blog posts announcing their retirement from the videogame company they founded.

The birth and success of BioWare has always made for a good story: Two Canadian doctors with an interest in videogames decide to switch fields and give game development a go. They strike gold with their second release — Baldur’s Gate, a 1998 role-playing game for PCs — and go on to make some of the best RPGs on the planet, including Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and the Mass Effect series. For many, however, this story was robbed of a happy ending when Muzkya and Zeschuk partnered up with Pandemic Studios and then sold the whole operation to EA. Pessimistic fans were certain quality would suffer once BioWare was under the EA brand, a fact that didn’t exactly go unproved by the tepidly received Dragon Age II and MMORPG flame-out Star Wars: The Old Republic. Plus, there was that whole Mass Effect 3 ending fiasco.

I’m not convinced the company will die out, consumed and discarded like so many before by EA. The BioWare brand is too valuable, and certainly many of the folks who worked on Mass Effect and Dragon Age: Origins are still with the studio. There may yet be stellar games released under the BioWare banner. (Here’s hoping Dragon Age III is one of them.) But there’s no doubt that without Muzkya and Zeschuk, the twin beating hearts of the company for so many years, the golden age of BioWare is effectively over. I’ll look back on it fondly. KOTOR remains one of my favorite games ever. In fact, sitting on the bookcase next to me as I write this are Darth Revan and Darth Malak action figures. For lack of a better word, they look … cool. Which is fitting, since the same could be said about many of the games Muzkya and Zeschuk shepherded (see what I did there?) into existence. The company those guys built, and have now departed, made really, really cool games.