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“I thought I could talk about generative AI, I could talk to you about all sorts of things, but ultimately I decided that I share something that is very near and dear to my heart, which is the creation of places in games.”

Aaryn Flynn can be considered a games industry veteran. Some of his earliest credits date back to 2000’s Baldur’s Gate II, but came to prominence with games like Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic, where he was lead gameplay engineer, Jade Empire, and Dragon Age: Origins, where he was a tactical director. Flynn later led BioWare as studio general manager for several years, overseeing the studio’s releases – including the beloved Mass Effect trilogy – up until 2019’s Anthem, at which point he left during development.

During Flynn’s time at BioWare it became one of the most respected names in the world of Western RPGs, a legacy that persists even now as people clamor for the upcoming Dragon Age: Dreadwolf. Now, Flynn is CEO of Inflexion Games which is releasing Nightingale on PC later this year.

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Flynn’s reputation and experience make him a natural choice for the inaugural keynote speech at 2023’s Reboot Develop Blue in Dubrovnik, and he shared how he spent some time just deciding what to talk about. “When I left BioWare, I thought about what I want to do next – this notion of places really got to my heart and made me think about what it means to build a place, building somewhere that’s special to players,” Flynn explains. “So I want to tell you about my journey today, and how I went from building games about stories, to games about places.”

Flynn’s tales from behind the scenes of game development showcase how far he personally has come in the last two decades, along with the games industry as a whole. And so much of his experience – so much of what made BioWare so remarkable – was breaking rules. Or not knowing the rules existed at all.

“One of my heroes in all of the creative field, Orson Welles, had this amazing interview at the BBC,” Flynn explains to the crowd. “And what he says is that the only reason he was successful with Citizen Kane was because he was ignorant of all the things you couldn't do in filmmaking at the time.”

Commander Shepard stares down a reaper in Mass Effect Legendary Edition.

It’s that philosophy that seemed to drive BioWare through some of its greatest triumphs, as Flynn explains regarding the Mass Effect series: “You can't tell players there will be a trilogy. I remember being at EA and talking about this and EA saying we cannot announce there's going to be a trilogy. Microsoft didn't want that either.

“They said you can't say that, you know, that that will change and we will pursue things… and we did it anyway.” Of course, we now know that the Mass Effect trilogy would go on to be one of the most celebrated game series of the generation, and remains a hot property even after Mass Effect: Andromeda underwhelmed fans.

That doesn’t mean that Flynn and others didn’t have reservations, though. “You know, at the time, this notion that we're going to tell a story over three distinct games in a trilogy and they were all going to connect to each other and it was just unheard of at the time and the games business didn't do that, you can't do that. That's not right. That's not how we do things here.”


Even technically, it was difficult to get games in both the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series to link together, and the team undertook a surprising amount of work to get it in order for launch. “We had to build special software and get it to be specially certified by Microsoft to do this because there was no way to get data off one part of the Xbox console into another game, that wasn't allowed at the time,” Flynn said.

“So we had to break that rule too. We were breaking rules largely because we didn't know we couldn't, we just thought it would make sense to make a cool game by doing this.”

But not everything can be achieved by breaking the rules – in his earliest days at BioWare, Flynn had to learn the rules before he could break them. “I did all of the cinematic camera work in programming that system on [Knights of the Old Republic] back in the day, as well as the combat,” Flynn explains. “I remember our lead animator, he came into my office one time and he came in and he plunked this book down on my desk. It was The Five C's of Cinematography: Motion Picture Filming Techniques. I said, ‘OK, what's this?’

“And he said, ‘Well, because it's a Star Wars game, we have to make this thing look like a Star Wars movie. So to do that, you’ve got to take this book and you’ve got to get that into the game.’

star wars knights of the old republic

“I said, ‘Oh my God, how are we going to do this?’ We had to learn a lot of math. We had to do a lot of fraternal math and a lot of these things. But ultimately, we pulled it off and it was really about this idea of not knowing we couldn't do it.” Another rule broken, in a way.

But as fans will already know, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for BioWare in the last decade, and part of the reason for that was EA and DICE’s Frostbite engine. “In the early days [Frostbite] worked out for us quite well, it was a tough engine to make a role playing game on, it didn’t have a lot of the things we’d gotten used to,” Flynn told the crowd. “But ultimately we went with this one because it was beautiful visually and it had a lot of energy within Electronic Arts going for it.

“And these two games [Mass Effect Andromeda and Anthem] come up, and we said to ourselves ‘okay, wow, what the heck’s going on?’ I was around for Andromeda, I wasn’t around for the shipping of Anthem, but certainly we were struggling mightily with all of the different variables of the studio.”

anthem game

Frostbite was developed by DICE specifically for the Battlefield series. EA had other internal developers use the engine too, but it was specifically built for FPS games like Battlefield. Overhauling systems to fit an RPG was a tall order, and impacted the development of BioWare’s upcoming games.

“We were grappling with Frostbite as an engine as it was getting used by more and more around EA, and there’s more and more pressure for Frostbite to do all the things you want a general engine to do,” Flynn said. “And so these were a lot of variables to go through and I think we lost some of the strength of that ignorance, right? We started to know too much about how these things work.

“We started to know that there are things you could do and couldn't do and so we kind of got in our own heads at times, and didn't trust ourselves, and didn't trust that we could still tell amazing stories and push the craft of storytelling in ways that would be good for the studio.”

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Flynn’s experiences with BioWare have impactful his current philosophy on game development and the games industry heavily, and he finishes with an anecdote from his time as CEO of Inflexion, along with his current conclusion on where the industry is headed next: “We were talking to publishers, and I looked at the deals, and the deal didn’t make sense. I looked at what they might’ve wanted from the project, and it didn’t make sense. We have a profitable project, but it felt lonely as hell, because I could explain all the reasons it made sense, and the people could agree with me on a human level, and then say, on an industry level though; ‘that isn’t the way things are done.’

“But we know the way things are done isn’t working. So we gotta change it.”

You can find out more about Aaryn Flynn’s next game Nightingale on the official website.