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Role Playing (Games) Games

10 Years of Baldur's Gate 63

Posted by Soulskill
from the decade-of-bioware-goodness dept.
RPGVault is running an article commemorating the 10th anniversary of acclaimed RPG Baldur's Gate. They sat down with members of the Dragon Age: Origins team, some of whom worked on Baldur's Gate, to talk about their experiences with the game and what made it so popular. "The other thing I was responsible for was balance testing. It was a constant fight between me and the Interplay testers; they were always trying to make it easier, and I was always pushing back to make it harder. At one point, I got so frustrated with the final battle with Sarevok that I created a 7th level Minsc, gave him some weapons and armor, and then began to spawn in Sarevok's — mowing through them like a hot knife through butter. After I'd killed six or seven of them, I spawned in a final one and took a screenshot, with the fresh one standing among all his slaughtered predecessors. I edited it and put a bubble above Minsc's head that read 'Sigh... another one of those pesky Sarevoks' and then e-mailed it out to the company. Growing up playing D&D with James Ohlen (the Lead Designer on BG, and now on our new MMO), I knew that would piss him off to no end, and suffice to say he was much tougher when I tried to fight him the next day."
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10 Years of Baldur's Gate

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  • by Dutch Gun (899105) on Thursday December 25, 2008 @06:33AM (#26229387)

    I just happened to have picked up Bauldur's Gate I && II recently from Amazon for some entertainment on my laptop. It's a reasonably powerful machine, but it's starting to show its age a bit as a gaming machine. So, having never played these games despite being a huge RPG fan, I picked them both up on the cheap.

    Obviously, the game shows its age in some ways, but its still fantastic fun, and sometimes deeper than more modern games (requiring explicit 3D visualization of everything in the world sometimes has its disadvantages). I'm just starting out, and I'm already having a blast. I can't wait until I get a bit deeper into the story and see what unfolds. The only hangup for me was I had gotten used to the more streamlined D&D v3 rules (never played with 3.5 or 4, at least yet), so dropping back to v2 was sort of strange.

    The stories about "100 hour work week" caught my eye as well. I was working in the game industry since about that time (coming up on 11 years for me), and attitudes by management certainly were a lot different then. Many companies just figured, "that's the way it is" in the industry while routinely exploiting the hell out of their workers. Most developers were young, having fun on the job and willing to work stupidly long hours, especially as one could be fairly easily replaced. Still, make no mistake, 100 hour workweeks are nothing to be proud of by either side. One side is exploiting, and the other is enabling that exploitation.

    I've been through crunches - and not even as bad as others have experienced. There's nothing good that comes out of it except a burning desire to get far away from the company that just finished putting you it (at least for me). Eventually, one comes to the realization that crunches are simply the result of bad scheduling, unrealistic expectations, continually shifting targets, or a combination of this and other issues. In other words, it means your project is a mess. I've seen multiple instances of a team that, quite literally, completely disintegrated at the end of a death march. Is a single project worth destroying a development team?

    Fortunately, attitudes are slowly changing in the industry for the better. Many of those who stuck through it have grown up, married, and have kids. We no longer will put up with demands to sacrifice our lives, and fortunately, occasionally have enough experience and clout to push thing in a saner direction. Some developers put through the wringer years ago are now in leadership positions, and vehemently fight against this sort of nonsense (this describes my current bosses, I'm happy to say). Keeping developers happy, not too surprisingly, is a good recipe for long-term success.

  • Epic Adventures (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ShakaUVM (157947) on Thursday December 25, 2008 @07:07AM (#26229469) Homepage Journal

    I loved the Baldur's Gate series, and while I rate them among my favorite games of all times (and just bought them again in the D&D collector's edition) they lived in a weird place, where I both wished they were longer and shorter games.

    At a certain point, I enjoyed just wandering to some random place in the world, and having some sort of encounter there. HOLY CRAP, there's a red dragon! And then figuring out how to beat it. But some sequences, especially and unfortunately in the main quests, could really drag. In BG II, once you travel to this island, you're basically on a railroad for the next 20 hours of your life. You end up traveling through three full acts of the game until you're allowed to re-emerge on the world map, travelling through a mage's tower (where you lose one of your party members permanently... which bugs the hell out of me when games do that), then underdark adventurers, then a full city of a drow that you have to navigate through before finally being able to emerge, blinking, on the surface, where there's still a few more adventures on rails before you're allowed to travel back home with the 3000 pounds of loot you've been accumulating the whole time.

    Best bug in BG II - an unsigned short underflow on magic item charges when fighting those monsters which eat magic. A sword with 32k charges of haste? Yes please. Especially since the price of an item is proportional to how many charges are left in it. =)

    I kind of wish that they'd have gone the extra mile and done a BG III instead of devolving into the pit of crap that is Neverwinter Nights and related games and expansions.

  • Re:Epic Adventures (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Simon Brooke (45012) <stillyet@googlemail.com> on Thursday December 25, 2008 @08:51AM (#26229721) Homepage Journal

    I kind of wish that they'd have gone the extra mile and done a BG III instead of devolving into the pit of crap that is Neverwinter Nights and related games and expansions.

    Without wishing to criticise Baldur's Gate, I think Neverwinter Nights and it's successors are among the best games ever. There's no accounting for taste, of course. There are certainly things wrong with NWN, but I think that's mainly the use of the D&D world - from that point of view, The Witcher [thewitcher.com], which is set in a much grittier and more realistic world, is better. But I'm really surprised that anyone into RPGs thinks NWN is 'crap'.

  • by Dr. Spork (142693) on Thursday December 25, 2008 @11:14AM (#26230239)

    I did some of the AI for the new enemies in the Ascention mod, and it was a very interesting experience. David Gaider, senior engineer at Bioware, basically showed up on a Yahoo group one day where we were working on teaching ourselves the scripting system, with the hope of "smartening up" our the standard BG2 enemies.

    We made considerable progress, and Gaider was impressed. Then he unloaded on us something that he had been working on - the "proper" ending for Throne of Baahl that Bioware just didn't have time to include. We coded up some pretty good AI for the enemies, to the point where, in a fight of equals, the AI almost always beat identically-endowed players, and without cheating.

    I still think that the final sequence in Ascention is the gold standard for party-based RPG fighting. It's definitely not easy, but by the time you get that far into the game, you should be skilled enough to construct a successful strategy.

  • Re:Epic Adventures (Score:3, Interesting)

    by discord5 (798235) on Thursday December 25, 2008 @01:32PM (#26230901)

    I think Neverwinter Nights and it's successors are among the best games ever.

    The only thing that saved the original Neverwinter Nights in my opinion was the last expansion, Hordes of the Underdark. The rest of the original game got old real soon. Halfway the original campaign I lost interest and started tinkering with the toolset that came with it. Fast forward a few weeks and I was majorly irritated by the numerous amounts of bugs in that.

    It's sequel, Neverwinter Nights 2, managed to capture my attention long enough with an actual story. The first expansion for it however was another horrible piece of dung because of a nifty mechanic that required you to feed (or not to feed) on spirits and became a real drag as it really got in the way of gameplay. I haven't even bothered picking up the latest expansion simply because halfway through the first expansion I got annoyed and just gave up on the whole thing.

    There are certainly things wrong with NWN, but I think that's mainly the use of the D&D world - from that point of view, The Witcher, which is set in a much grittier and more realistic world, is better.

    I'll agree with you that the witcher is a much better game using the same (albeit a little souped up) engine, but I don't really think that the D&D setting has a lot to do with it. When I played the original Baldurs Gate game by the end of it when I defeated Sarevok I had a sense of just having played a really epic campaign. You started out as the D&D equivalent of John Q. Public and ended up being the offspring of a deity.

    Maybe it's the nostalgia kicking in, but for me that game had everything an RPG needed:

    • a story that kept you coming back for more
    • a setting that would drag you in, where even the side-quests did a pretty good job of masking the typical kill-fetch-retrieve quests as having somewhat of a background
    • a familiar backdrop in the D&D world, with a few references here and there
    • a good balance between story and action
    • unforgettable party members (really, who can forget Minsc, Jaheira, ...)

    I don't think NWN is crap as much as that it failed to deliver to anticipation after the Baldurs Gate series. It had a mediocre story, numerous gameplay flaws (party size being the most prominent one at that), and on release it was riddled with bugs. What it did do was allow you to have a lot of fun with the editor, but even that was a horrible drag if you didn't have the patience to mess around with a lot of (initially) undocumented calls.

    I've played a lot of RPGs since Baldurs Gate, and few of them have been as polished as that title. Maybe that's just my nostalgia goggles talking...

  • by PIPBoy3000 (619296) on Thursday December 25, 2008 @01:50PM (#26230979)
    I recently had the opportunity to fly up to Edmonton to visit Bioware and get a peek at the new Dragon Age toolset (I'm in the middle here [ign.com]). While it was interesting to see what the new game engine could do, the most fun was just spending time with the Bioware folks. I do software development for a healthcare organization, so it was a treat to see how thing were run in a gaming company. Many concepts were the same, but there was indeed a big break room full of food and gaming systems. I also was pelted during a Nerf shootout by the toolset developers. Their goal for the day was to see how many visitors they could get in a day.

    The gaming industry has come far with Dragon Age. The technology has improved immensely, along with the effort required to make high-quality games. From what little I've seen, I'm hopeful Dragon Age will indeed be the spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate.
  • by Dutch Gun (899105) on Thursday December 25, 2008 @08:10PM (#26232623)

    I totally appreciate your point of view... but I can hear management right now..

    "That's fine, we still have India"

    70% of Toca 3's cars were outsourced to India....

    The [sad] truth is, no matter how unwilling you are to do something, there will always be someone grateful for it, even if they are getting paid 3x+ less than you.

    I feared this day coming, and the truth is under current laws etc, anything that can be outsourced WILL be outsourced, and what are but a few ones and zeros? :-/

    Our company outsources some of our artwork to Asia, but it's somewhat limited in scope. Most of the outsourced tasks are isolated in nature and have very clear "blueprints", so to speak (i.e. we need another several variants on this theme of outfit, etc). One could compare it to the difference between key animators and betweeners in traditional cell animation work, I suppose.

    Knowledgeable management understands that outsourcing only works well in particular cases. You mentioned car models were outsourced. This is actually a pretty good example of something that probably does happen to work well for outsourcing. A car, especially a licensed car, is a well-defined and isolated game asset. Assuming there's a standardized starting rig and shaders (which I'd guess the local artists created), it wouldn't be too hard for external houses to crank through them. I've worked on a baseball game before, and the stadium modeling was outsourced.

    None of our programming and none of our "key" art assets are outsourced, because:
    1) In some cases (particularly regarding engineering) it would require handing over too much information to someone we really don't know or trust (we've had damaging PR-related leaks from external partners before).
    2) They would not be able to coordinate with other team members in any way that approached what a local developer could do, especially if they're nowhere near the same timezone. Our working space is optimized for easy communication with each other.
    3) They simply don't have the industry experience that our team has (many have five to fifteen years), and wouldn't be able to deliver the same quality and creativity.

    In our particular situation, both inter and intra-team communication is extremely important. Game development is a highly fluid process, and it's important to be able to change directions quickly when new ideas are thought of, or when an old idea are discovered to be unfun or just unworkable. Management-think like what you described is the same sort of short-sighted thinking that directly led to the demise of many development houses. The same mentality that was used to work people until they became physically ill (yes, I know of this happening) could also be used to keep wages suppressed. We already receive lower-than-industry-average wages due to the nature of the work we do - not complaining, I knew this going in. The threat used to be with replacement by fresh college grads or whiz-kids off the streets. Now it's by outsourcing. It sounds good on paper, but it just doesn't end up working like that.

    I've been hearing this for a decade now, and the threat of cheaper labor has always been there. If your company plans to outsource everything to India or China, you might as well find a new job anyhow. Management who doesn't understand the value of what an experienced developer can do is pretty much guaranteed to run the company in the ground eventually. I mentioned earlier the industry is improving / growing up. Part of this natural evolution is, to put it bluntly, the culling of companies that simply won't ever be successful due various reasons, including short-sighted management.

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