Remember the term "BioWare magic?" Kotaku described it in this lengthy report (opens in new tab) on the failure of Anthem as a belief within the studio that no matter how rough things look during game development, everything will ultimately come together to make the great BioWare games we used to know and love. In the latest episode of his Old Game Dev Advice series on YouTube, though, long-time BioWare stalwart Mark Darrah expressed a very different perspective on the process.
Game development, Darrah explained, is like a hockey stick: A long arm in which not much seems to be happening, followed by a sharp uptick where everything happens. That bend in the graph is where the magic happens.
"This last little jog up, that's what people at the studio are talking about when they say 'BioWare magic'," Darrah explains in the video. "Things come together really late, and things get better really late."
But that's actually a "terrible" process, he continued, because it's impossible to say how sharp the rise is going to be, or even when it will happen. A better and more sensible approach would be to raise the long arm—accelerate the development process overall, essentially—which will enable better iteration so people can "see what the hell it is you are making," and not end up trapped in crunch.
"BioWare magic is shit process," Darrah said. "It's putting a name on something that's saying, 'Don't worry, don't freak out, because we know that at a future date it's all going to get faster and it's all going to work out. But the reality is that 'working out,' that's where crunch comes from, and that's where delayed games come from. Because you can't predict with a hockey stick. You don't know where the pivot point is, you don't know what the angle is. There's no predictability there at all, so you're making it up by delays and crunch time. BioWare magic is bullshit."
He clarified that some fans use the term to describe BioWare games themselves, or the characters, worlds, and stories they contain. "But within the studio, within the development process, when people say 'BioWare magic,' they mean this fucking thing," he added, jabbing his finger at the graph.
Darrah spent more than 20 years at BioWare before leaving in 2020, and has credits (opens in new tab) running from the original Baldur's Gate to Anthem, so it's fair to say that he knows a thing or two about what goes on behind the scenes. But he acknowledged that this phenomenon isn't unique to BioWare: It's common throughout the industry because it's inherent in how big studio culture works. He'd like to see that change, but he has more reasonable short-term goals, too.
"Don't say BioWare magic to refer to this, because this isn't BioWare magic," he concluded. "This is bad process. So stop it. Make the process better, you'll never have to say this again."