There are a couple schools of thought when it comes to the purpose and potential of videogames. Some developers see the format as an abstract sort of canvas, an opportunity for interactivty, in which the player’s imagination is lord. The other faction (we’ll call them the "skins") views gaming as a fledgling narrative method, in which authorial control must be exerted to guide the player through a pre-written story.
These two modes of thought aren’t exactly in direct tension with one another, but the two philosophies rarely intersect, which is why I get excited when I hear about projects from BioWare. The developer’s knack at developing RPGs wherein the story and interactivity are both given fair shakes has resulted in one of the finest RPGs to date (Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn), as well as a couple of notable experiments (Neverwinter Nights and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic).
This preview at Computer and Video Games of their upcoming PC-exclusive RPG Dragon Age makes me even more excited for the evolution of these twin game philosophies, with promise of greater subtlety in plotting (thanks to less reliance on dialogue and more on emotive graphics) and a refinement of the now-common system of providing players with tangible consequences for even their most flippant actions.
It should be a good year for BioWare, if their spirit of experimentation survives clear through to the published product (i.e., they don’t get hit by Molyneux syndrome). I’m looking forward to comparing the efforts in play in Dragon Age to those that hit the Xbox 360 in the developer’s other high-profile project, the sci-fi free-roaming RPG-lite Mass Effect, which also features its fair share of experimentation.