When BioWare co-founder Dr. Greg Zeschuk stepped away from the game industry, it seemed like he was gone for good. After all, Zeschuk was tired – not just of spending time away from friends and family, but of game development in general. In his retirement letter, Zeschuk claimed that he “no longer [had] the passion that I once did… for the games and for the challenge of creation.” After twenty years, Zeschuk was ready for a change – he launched a webseries devoted to craft beer almost immediately after retiring, and opened his own brewery – and while Zeschuk didn’t confirm that he was leaving game development forever, he did note that “there’s a strong possibility that I won’t be back.”
And while Zeschuk’s departure was a big loss for the gaming community, many agreed that was time for Zeschuk and his partner, Dr. Ray Muzyka, to go. That’s not to denigrate their achievements. After all, this is the duo that put together RPG classics like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights, and made BioWare a household name with blockbusters like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, the original Mass Effect, and Dragon Age: Origins.
However, after Electronic Arts acquired BioWare, the studio hit a rough patch. Many fans were disappointed by Dragon Age 2,while Mass Effect 3 failed to provide the epic conclusion gamers were hoping for. The Old Republic didn’t deliver on Zeschuk’s original promise that the game would be “KOTOR 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9,” and he even described Electronic Arts’ management style as a “well-meaning but vigorous” bear-hug. Zeschuk and Muzyka solidified BioWare’s legacy years earlier; maybe some fresh blood really was in the company’s best interest.
He was right. BioWare is on an upswing thanks to last fall’s best-selling Dragon Age: Inquisiton, and Zeschuk’s coming back to games, too – with a twist. As his former company flourishes, Zeschuk has joined forces with Biba Ventures, a Vancouver-based company that develops augmented reality apps for playgrounds.
Recently, Biba partnered with the manufacturer PowerPlay to create a line of mobile games that flesh out traditional playground experiences. For example, one app turns a playground into a wrecked spaceship, complete with a robot tour guide. The app gives children aged 3-9 specific tasks to perform, and can be used to track medals and high scores. Zeschuk will oversee this new initiative.
That’s a far cry from the gritty RPGs that Zeschuk’s known for, but it’s a challenge he sounds more than up for. “PlayPower and Biba are creating a new category,” he says, “an inventive way to blend our new media habits with the health benefits and joy of active outdoor play.” As both a father and a game designer, Zeschuk is excited. If he can harness that enthusiasm and channel it into the kind of innovation that characterized BioWare’s early titles, playgrounds may never be the same again.