by Joseph Leray
BioWare is no stranger to concept art — they’ve collected massive amounts of it for the various “Mass Effect” and “Dragon Age” art books. But with a clutch of sprawling RPG series under its belt, there must be an untold number of sketches, paintings, storyboards, and 3D renders stacked in filing cabinets or in the dark corners of forgotten harddrives.
Yesterday, BioWare artist Matt Rhodes uploaded dozens of pieces of his own never-before-seen “Dragon Age” and “Mass Effect” art, ranging from scrapped character models to unused dungeon designs.
Concept art is often used in marketing to tease potential customers, but you’ll make yourself crazy sorting through it after you’ve already played the game — it’s too tempting to think, “What if Tali had looked like this?”
Here’s a piece I like, though:
“This lineup was drawn as part of a visual development project we tried,” Rhodes explains. “As a way of summing up all the design elements we wanted to bring together we made a simple animatic, trying to capture a slice of the art direction over all. These guys served as our temporary cast.
I actually got to see the animatic he’s referring to in late 2010, when I visited BioWare’s Edmonton studio to preview “Dragon Age II.” As far as I know, it was never released, but it took place during the game’s introduction: protagonist Hawke gets overwhelmed by Darkspawn on the road from Lothering to Kirkwall, only to be saved by a giant dragon.
At the time, lead designer Mike Laidlaw told me that Rhodes’ short animation was the basis for a prototyped ability that would have allowed players to summon a quick dragon airstrike. It was scrapped because it didn’t fit with the “Dragon Age” lore and was overpowered, to boot.
Other tantalizing prospects buried in Rhodes’ collection include a showdown between Shepard and Ashley, set in a hypothetical scenario in which Shepard has used some illegal Reaper augmentations.
This specific scenario doesn’t actually happen in “Mass Effect” to my knowledge, but the basic ideas are definitely there, and Shepard does eventually confront a former crew member (in my case, Kaiden) during a Cerberus attack on the Citadel in “Mass Effect 3.” It’s neat to be able to look at unused assets and ideas and trace them to their finalized forms in-game.
I’ve embedded some of my favorite images from Rhodes’ treasure trove below, but his insights into the design process for “Mass Effect” and “Dragon Age” are well worth a look. Check out the full set here.
Joseph Leray is a freelance writer from Nashville. Follow him on Twitter