James Ohlen, a creative director, designer, and writer behind beloved BioWare titles such as Jade Empire, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and Dragon Age: Origins, will be leading a new development studio in Austin, Texas for Wizards of the Coast, the popular publisher behind Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons, and the Pokemon Trading Card game. While a large focus of the company has been on collectible card games, it seems they want to make a bigger dent in the video game market.
Ohlen retired from BioWare last year, but Wizards of the Coast was able to pull him back into game development. Ohlen explained that both of their loves for RPGs, world building, and interactive storytelling made the pairing a great fit for both parties.
Ohlen told Gamesindustry:
I had pretty well turned down most opportunities for interviews to get back into the industry, but I talked to Wizards of the Coast president Chris Cocks and he gave me a scenario that was very intriguing and interesting[…]It was like the scene out of The Godfather where it was an offer that was too good to refuse.”
However, Wizards of the Coast’s new games won’t be based on Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, or other existing properties. They will be completely original projects.
Perhaps commenting on recent news of crunch at various development studios, Ohlen said he doesn’t want to have a workaholic environment. He noted that he has a family and other commitments. He specially said, “Obviously I want to create an environment and a studio that is one people enjoy coming into, where they’re not working themselves to death and are able to have a family life.” He also said he wanted creative control. He noted that the less you have, the more work it can become to create a project.
The studio seems to be in its infancy. Ohlen said that he’s pretty sure that Wizards of the Coast wants the Austin development site to be a AAA studio. However, there are currently no plans regarding its growth, and there isn’t a public timeline in place.
While we wait for any future video game news from Wizards of the Coast’s new Austin studio, Ohlen himself has already embarked on one adventure. Under the book publishing arm Arcanum Worlds, he began a Kickstarter for a Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition expansion book called Odyssey of the Dragonlords on April 16, 2019. While its initial goal was $50,000, it has already passed $191,000 as of April 24th.