Not Forgotten: Bioware On Baldur’s Gate

By Alec Meer on August 16th, 2010 at 4:46 pm.

Hello! I’m currently out at GDC Europe, skipping around businessy talks to cover for my day job, but I ended up sat in on BIoware’s laidback and fascinating retrospective on the making of their breakthrough game, Baldur’s Gate. It’s a landmark title, and fascinatingly critical to what modern RPGs and MMOs are, but one we’ve surprisingly not talked about much on RPS. Thanks to my magic (and now rather broken) hands of transcripting +1, let’s change that…

It’s a bit mega-text this, but stick with it. Fun stuff.

Speaking are Dr Ray Muzyka and Dr Greg Zeschuk, the unspellable but still whip-smart and immensely likeable co-founders of the Canadian RPG giant.

Ray: Greg and I were having lunch last century. We had been fans of videogames for 20 years for that point, all through medical school we’d been talking about them. So we said why don’t we form a studio. And that was pretty much it. Medicine became more of a hobby.

Greg: it’s really funny to go back and find some of the ancient documentation. We always had that passion to make games, that’s been the driving force for us the whole time. We formed the company in 1995, we’ve been going a long time. It was pretty much five years of operating Bioware before people who knew who we are.

Ray: BG was one of the first games that was a Windows direct application. DirectX 3 was like crazy advanced at the time.
Greg: Medicine was quite literally our safety net. We could have quit and become doctors.

Ray: I formally retired in 2000. We both basically practiced for a number of years, we never had the intention of leaving medicine per se. Both of us really liked medicine, we finished it and it was interesting, it was good to return something back to society but videogames was always our passion.

Greg: The other thing to remember is no-one really likes a creative doctor.

Ray: We ended up sending out our first game Shattered Steel to ten publishers. Of those publishers, only one is still in business- EA. We originally called Baldur’s game Battleground Infinity; it was going to be an MMO [about a pantheon of different mythologies]

Greg – there really hadn’t been any kind of MMO then. Even then we were too ambitious. Looking back at the documentation, the cover art was done by the lead programmer. It would have been interesting because Bioware’s first game would have been an MMO.

Ray: Interplay had the Dungeons and Dragons license through TSR so what they provided was converting the engine to Dungeons and Dragons instead. We thought that would be a good license to develop in.

Greg: what we always wanted to make was the experience of that top-down experience. That top-down world exploration of Ultima was a really big inspiration for us. One thing that’s important to realise was we started it back in the mid-90s, and that was when RPGs were dead in North America. People would kind of scoff when you said you were making one.

Ray: A lot of publishers were saying RPGs were not the place to be and there was not a future for them. We disagreed, we wanted to go back to our favourite games of the 80s and early 90s. All these amazing games that provide these rich experiences. We wanted to create something to capture that magic.

Greg: We have a way of describing it now, historically we didn’t have the language to explain it. What we moved to was the concept of Bioware’s 4 pillars. The idea of exploration, incredible territory to explore. Combat, you had to think you had to plan, by changing tactics you could be successful. Characters…

Ray – We looked at RTSes, C&C and WoW, you’d click on characters and they’d say something back to you, and it was a surprise. Jagged Alliance, one character would take out a gun and start shooting another because they’d had an argument. We wanted to make them feel like real people, not NPCs who were AI controlled, they really felt they had personalities and came to life.

Greg – Progression. Wasteland, Tales of Arkania, those concepts of progressing your character and making them cool over time.

Ray – You could say on one hand we just made it up. No-one on the team had ever made a videogame before. It was 60 people at the time, that was absolutely enormous at the time, teams were about a dozen. Not a single person had made a game, but they had passion and the love. We always approached it with humility and recognition that we could improve.

Greg – that original team had a core group. Ray was the producer, James Olin was lead designer, John Gallagher conceptual artist. He literally drew every object in the game. That core team was very multi-disciplinary, not too program driven or design driven. That was the principle that drove that. Core teams are larger now, probably bigger than most developers nowadays.

Ray – There’s a meritocracy of ideas, where the best idea will rule. It doesn’t matter where that idea comes from. It’s about making the best idea come forward. We’re willing to change the design and iterate until we get it right. Put aside your ego and try and advance the best idea for the cause.

Greg – it worked really well as a small team. The reality where that concept that really no-one’s idea was better than anyone else’s, and the final decision would be that core group.

Ray – We really viewed the fan as the final arbiter. That was really important to us in the early games, we wanted all our games to be seen as high quality. We wanted Bioware to be associated with quality. We wanted to make each game better than the last.

Greg – Back then there was no concept of usability testing or focus testing, you literally went with your gut. It’s funny now because you look at the amount of focus testing, there’s a certain fear to it. IN those days there was that wonderful creativity and randomness. We were very measured in how we did it, but it was actually kind of refreshing.

[On publisher expectations]

Ray – BG grew in the telling, as it were. I remember seeing all the ads that we saw on the way in, and they were launch ads, they were not promotional. [Release dates got pushed back] Fortunately Interplay and Black Isle were very supportive, ensured we had the budget we needed to be successful.

Greg – it’s interesting when you think back to Interplay of old, and their slogan was by gamers for gamers which was actually kind of true. Brian Fargo who ran Interplay was a developer. It was a publishing and distribution company run by a developer. When we would explain why something had to be a certain way we had a nice rapport on the other side of the phone. We were all learning the craft at the same time. It was so early in the history of the games business that they had a little more experience than us but not a whole lot more.

[On scope]
Ray – It was huge. There was like a 100 screens by 100 screens, so like 10,000 screens of art at 640×480.

Greg – The biggest mistake we ever made was not making Throne of Bhaal BG3, because it kind of was.

[Interplay wanted to split BG2 into two parts, they resisted for technical reasons... ]

There’s times when game series don’t come to conclusion, but BG2 actually finished at the end of that second expansion pack.

Ray – Part of that was what we didn’t know what we were doing. Designing an engine from scratch without anyone having ever made an engine before, we were learning all those things on the fly. We emerged from it with a lot of knowledge and a lot of people who were very passionate.

Greg – Apparently Dragon Age was quite big as well. It’s funny, you think you learn the lessons, but one of the things you can’t predict is how long you think you’re games going to be in real-time. We actually trimmed a bunch of stuff from it. You can actually see that lineage, and that was one of the points behind Dragon Age was to try and draw upon Baldur’s Gate.

Ray – Spiritual successor to it.

Ray – We ended up redoing the art three times from scratch. We continually refined our processes and our artists were getting better and better, and because it’s such a huge game we had to go back and redo all that art. Two years later we did it again.

Greg – The blades of grass was as big as the characters. I think that was the first one. Beautiful, but the characters don’t fit.

Ray – All the audio, streaming music, multiple characters interacting, all those crazy things we were trying to do and were very ambitious, when you put it all together the whole thing slowed to a crawl. So we had to learn to be iterative.

Greg – In those days if you were an artist and you could draw a robot on a napkin literally you could get hired. One of the senior art guys, that was his application. Early on we found that passion and fit were very very important. They were largely people who were making games themselves, but they had no formal experience. A lot of those people are still in the business and are very very successful. It’s ironic, because the company we are now, someone showing up with a robot on a napkin probably wouldn’t get past reception.

Ray – One of the technical artists we had on the project later, amazingly talented artist, and he had never turned on a computer before that. He carved hunting ducks, decoys you put in the water. We thought he must have really good 3d spatial skills, so we gave him a shot and he ended up being an amazing artist. James Olin was a D&D dungeon master in his home town, people spoke in glowing terms what a great GM he was.

Greg – Even better, he traded his box of magic cards for a station wagon so he drive to Edmonton and work for us.

Greg – In the mid-90s, the concept of middleware didn’t exist. Secondly the development tools were really archaic. IT was 3DS revision 2 we used. So we had to develop software engines from scratch. As Ray said, we developed a Windows native application, that was a big deal. We literally sat there with a bunch of people who hadn’t made games with a blank piece of paper and no technology. What we actually did was take the [direct x 3.1 asteroids demo] and convert it into what looks like a very archaic version of Baldur’s Gate but was actually an asteroids game.

Ray – one of the things after we launched BG and saw the sales reports and it was going to be one of the top five games of the year, I remember just waking up in a cold sweat, just scared. What if this is the best thing we ever do, what if this was all Bioware was ever known for? It was paralysing to me. We wanted to evolve our craft, we see videogames as an art. Every game we release we try and add something new, take some creative risk in the hope that it’ll be a better game for our fans.

Greg – [On whether they might create special editions of their old games] We don’t actually control that [rerelease of old games] but the business of the game is really intertwined between a whole bunch of different companies. Somehow you have to get agreements from an enormous number of groups. That’d be incredibly challenging. Obviously that’d be something we’d love to support that, make it higher definition, ressed up, but there’s all these independent needs. It’s tricky.

Ray – [on whether they'll continue to support user-made content] Well we released the toolkit for Dragon Age and that’s been very successful. We’re big believers in user-generated content. We may have something like that in the works which we haven’t announced, we haven’t said what it will be yet.

Greg – If you teach people how to fish they can fish forever, and NWN was a great example of that. Our tools are tied up with the dev process in the company so you actually learn how we make games.
It’s a little trickier in the console space, but I think it’s safe to say we’re not done with the fan-created content concept yet.

__________________

« | »

, , , .

111 Comments »

  1. Duffin says:

    The best pc game of all time.

    • Duffin says:

      and number 2.

    • Sarlix says:

      Boo agrees.

    • Wednesday says:

      I think I may have to agree. Baldur’s Gate II is just outstanding. And this isn’t nostalgia, I played it for the first time only last year.

      Though, Boo thinks you are just ducky.

    • Gorgeras says:

      You are now aware that you are thinking of re-installing BG and/or BG2.

    • Sobric says:

      I think I might have to agree also. I really love BG2.

      EDIT: CAPTCHA is 3men…. 3men do what RPS? 3men do what?!?

    • Sarlix says:

      3men are straggling. Please Gather Your Party Before Venturing Forth

      Please Gather Your Party Before Venturing Forth

      Please Gather Your Party Before Venturing Forth

      Please Gather Your Party Before Venturing Forth

      Please Gather Your Party Before Venturing Forth

      Please Gather Your Party Before Venturing Forth

    • Boldoran says:

      BG2 and ToB are great RPGs. After reading the interview I feel a bit useless though. The guy woke up in cold sweat because he was afraid that BG would be the best thing he ever did in his live. Considering that he studied medicine and was part of the team that single-handedly resurrected the RPG genre with an inexpirencded team he seems to hold himself to a pretty high standard.
      Add to that they took BG it to another level in the sequel. I can understand the feeling of course but frankly I think most people (myself included) would consider themself lucky to achieve something in their lives that will be remebered half as long as BG2.

    • Nick says:

      Yes, ironically it was BG2 that was the best thing they would ever do =)

      I too wish they had made ToB BG3, in that they had made it longer! Still, a great saga and I still play through both games (and expansions) every few years. In fact I’m probably about due another go… I wish I could unremember everything about them =/

    • Azazel says:

      Some day I might wish to reinstall BG1 and 2 plus all expansions, plus The Darkest Day, plus all the various other big picture mods.

      That is a mighty beast to play, but so very good. Short of breaking a leg I doubt I’ll ever get the time to do it again – it will probably always remain a memory of my mid-teens.

      Reading A Song of Ice and Fire at the moment, which is feeling somewhat like the BG of my mid-twenties…

    • Nick says:

      Personally I wouldn’t bother with any of the big picture mods, they are all utterly dreadful.

    • Azazel says:

      Well, Shadows Over Soubar had some good bits, although it still features the worst bit of amateur voice acting ever ever EVER.

      The guy that voices the mayor if I remember correctly… It’s laughably bad, almost worth the download.

    • Adam Whitehead says:

      “Reading A Song of Ice and Fire at the moment, which is feeling somewhat like the BG of my mid-twenties…”

      Some of the BioWare guys are big fans of A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE and have (repeatedly) cited it as the primary inspiration for DRAGON AGE. Of course, this got the book fans excited that maybe BioWare might think about doing the inevitable official game spin-off. Instead, Cyanide are doing it, which is not encouraging.

      Martin should have held off on the gaming licence until after the HBO series airs early next year, when interest from bigger publishers and developers would have likely exploded through the roof.

    • oceanclub says:

      “Some of the BioWare guys are big fans of A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE and have (repeatedly) cited it as the primary inspiration for DRAGON AGE”

      Well certainly the Gray Wardens are a complete, blatant, er, homage to the Watch. But hey, if you’re going to homage stuff, homage the best.

      P.

  2. Okami says:

    What a nice talk. Too bad they haven’t made a good rpg since Throne of Bhaal…

    • danarchist says:

      Obvious troll is obvious

    • Langman says:

      There’s a shred of truth in it though.

      Dragon Age is nothing more than average. Their last truly great RPG was Bhaal.

    • Bhazor says:

      In an ideal world there would be more than one western company making functional high budget RPGs. Then we’d see how average and middle of the road Bioware are.

    • Nick says:

      They have made good ones, just not *as* good.

    • Archonsod says:

      “In an ideal world there would be more than one western company making functional high budget RPGs. Then we’d see how average and middle of the road Bioware are.”

      What, like Bethesda? There used to be Sirtech and New World Computing too, but of course people stopped buying their games for some strange reason.

    • TCM says:

      So basically, “If there were a company making better CRPGs than Bioware does, Bioware would not be making the best CRPGs.”

      Thank you for the blinding flash of insight. I am blinded.

    • TCM says:

      That was at Bhazor, incidentally.

    • Bhazor says:

      Well in terms of writing they are far from the best with Obsidian, Trioka and CD Projeckt outclassing them. Theres no escaping they’ve been reusing some of the same templates (often out of place romance lines, a band of unlikely heroes, going to four places to get the four starmaps/alliances/mcguffins, good/evil or paragon/renegade alignment slider) since Baldurs Gate whilst struggling to create a new combat system that works on a controller.

      As far as North American RPG developers go they’re the best but only due to a lack of competition. They’d only be above average if say Obsidian was given the budget and QA department Bioware has or if Troika hadn’t gone under. Compared to the dozens of JRPG developers theres just no rivals to make Bioware up their game.

    • TCM says:

      For the record, I will only use games I have played as examples.

      Obsidian is arguable, depending on how complete you want to believe their games are, and their writing is goshdarn similar to Bioware’s, if not better or worse in minor areas — KOTOR 2, NWN 2, and AP all demonstrate this. They tend to write grayer plots, in terms of morality, but are otherwise quite similar. I’ve said to a friend of mine that while Obsidian has all the ambition of Black Isle, Bioware has all the technical skill, and is actually capable of writing a proper ending, and I stand by that statement, especially after AP where they had all the time in the world, and weren’t being rushed out the door by the publisher.

      Troika certainly did some good stuff, but had no quality control whatsoever. Vampire’s an excellent game, if horrifically buggy out of the box, and again, not demonstrably better than the similarly-timed KOTOR. It has more freedom of choice, but was much worse as a GAME. A thing to play. The storyline is, again, arguable. It’s very good for freedom, not so much for being clear. I have not yet completed the game, but I have yet to find any particular piece of writing that stands out to me as absolutely better than what Bioware was doing at the same time, or later. The fact they went under is still quite sad, as they could have been capable of a whole lot if they were still around.

      CD Projekt…Is promising. I will wait for The Witcher 2 before I can offer further comment. I have played some, at least, of The Witcher, but it has yet to hook me in the same way DA did, despite the atmospheres being generally similar. I can’t offer a convincing reason to that outside of quality of atmosphere – DA felt more immersive to me.

  3. Fumarole says:

    Such an amazing game from a green team. Incredible.

  4. Tacroy says:

    I seriously need to finish Throne of Bhaal someday. Baldur’s Gate 2 was one of the very few games I finished before college (I usually drop them after a while because the combat is boring (kensage ftw!) and the plot is trite, but I needed to know what happened with Irenicus and everything), but I just couldn’t do Throne of Bhaal for some reason.

    Baldur’s Gate (one and two and Tales of the Sword Coast and Throne of Bhaal) and Planescape are the only games I’ve bought twice, just because they were amazing and I wanted to make sure I didn’t accidentally break the CDs or something. Planescape amazed me – the original copy I bought had something like six CDs, but then a few years later I picked up a copy of it from Fry’s that was on a skimpy two CDs. Thinking about it, I realized that the threefold reduction in size was almost certainly due to the advent of MP3s – there was so much spoke text in that game, and it was all such high quality. (“Simple minds, simple pleasures…”)

    Hah and as a side note, I remember reading the PS:T boards and some kid was complaining about “my game is broken, Morte only says the first part of his text, he doesn’t say all of it!”

    Some kind forum dweller had to tell him that if all the text in the game were spoken, it would span about a hundred CDs so stop being lazy and read. And then Dragon Age comes out, with every line voiced, and it’s less than 10 GB in size :) (though to be honest, there’s also far far less dialog than in PS:T – I really hate how you’re given the option to say thing 1 2 and 3, but the character’s response is so generic it could be in reply to any of them)

    • Nick says:

      So the combat is boring because you picked the most overpowered easymode character combo?

    • Tacroy says:

      No, I just generally find combat boring in games. I picked the Kensai-Mage dual class because it provided a wide range of ability options (both some neat melee combat abilities (and survivability, which is important in “if this dude dies it’s game over” situations) and spellcasting, which has always been quite fun) and was just awesome pants all around.

      The thing is, I’m kind of a perfectionist munchkin. This ends up making combat boring for me in games, because there’s almost always some flaw in the AI that makes it so that you can beat enemies as long as you do it a long, boring way – and I’m generally not willing to risk playing the “right” way, because it’s sub-optimal in gameplay terms.

      I also tend to cheat a lot in single player games, because I want to get everything out of a game when I play it – all those locked chests in DA:O, for instance, are pissing me off because I can’t get into them and I don’t yet have a character who can. I’m more patient now so I’m going to wait until I can play through with a rogue character, but still – I gave my mage 20 Cunning, and that’s not good enough to open anything. Throw me a bone here guys!

  5. benjamin says:

    I’ve never played Baldur’s Gate and never will – graphics and time being the two reasons why.

  6. Flint says:

    Blimey, had no idea Shattered Steel was by Bioware. I’ve been enjoying the works of these guys longer than I thought.

  7. DrGonzo says:

    Always found Baldur’s gate to be incredibly meh. I liked number 2 for a while though.

  8. Sobric says:

    I’d really love to see BG1 & 2 retooled into the Dragon Age engine, original voice-assists and all.

  9. Nick says:

    I’m in the midst of my annual bg2 replay. I doubt I shall ever love a game more.

  10. Gritz says:

    Greg – Progression. Wasteland, Tales of Arcania, those concepts of progressing your character and making them cool over time.”

    Does he mean Realms of Arkania?

  11. robrob says:

    Interestingly, this is also the reason the John Romero division of Ion Storm completely tanked. Lots of employees with lots of passion and no experience however in Ion Storm’s case it was coupled with poor management. The non-Romero divisions were of course responsible for Anachronox and some other thing nobody’s ever heard of – day of sex or some nonsense.

    What interests me is how they got funding to start such a big studio with no background in the industry. Does medicine really pay that much?

  12. bhlaab says:

    A lot of publishers were saying (isometric turn based) RPGs were not the place to be and there was not a future for them. We disagreed, we wanted to go back to our favourite games of the 80s and early 90s. All these amazing games that provide these rich experiences.

  13. Patrick says:

    “In those days if you were an artist and you could draw a robot on a napkin literally you could get hired… It’s ironic, because the company we are now, someone showing up with a robot on a napkin probably wouldn’t get past reception.”

    Yet their games were much better back then. They should rethink hiring more napkin people, methinks.

  14. Hunam says:

    My weapon has no effect! My weapon has no effect! My weapon has no effect! My weapon has no effect! My weapon has no effect! URGh!>..f,.afa….

  15. Pace says:

    Is it possible to buy these games anywhere?

    • Bhazor says:

      http://www.amazon.co.uk/Baldurs-Gate-4-Compilation-DVD/dp/B002TOKQH2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=videogames&qid=1281979865&sr=8-1

      £10 Is pretty nice for both games and both expansions but I heard, from a wizened old man in a tavern, that there was a box set with Planescape and Icewind Dale for £5 more but if there is I haven’t seen it.

    • Pace says:

      Wow, thanks. Never occurred to me it might still be available retail. (I see there’s plenty of ebay copies too, though I guess that’s not necessary now.)

    • Sarlix says:

      I’m not sure if the retail copies come with a manual? But it would defiantly be worth going the ebay route for this reason alone. Many hours of toilet reading await you!

    • Bhazor says:

      I bought that boxset and I can say “Yes they have the manual” but I would then say “only as .pdf”. I can definitely see the appeal of tracking down a big box version manual though. It looks almost as good as the Sim City 2000 manual, the one that included a section of poems and essays by city planners.

    • Nick says:

      The Volo and Eleminster stuff in the manual is pretty entertaining.

    • Sagan says:

      If you plan on replaying or playing them for the first time, I would recommend looking into mods first. There is a mod which combines both games so that you can play straight through from the beginning of Baldur’s Gate 1 to the end of Throne of Baal. And there is a mod which gets rid of a lot of the minor annoyances, like the “Please gather your party before venturing forth. Please gather your party before venturing forth.” thing mentioned above. There is also a high-res mod, which makes the games work better on large and widescreen monitors, but that one requires some fiddling with the settings or it just makes everything really tiny because we have such huge resolutions nowadays.

      I don’t have any links ready, but googling or maybe the Bioware forums should help.

    • Sarlix says:

      ^What Sagan said.

      You can find most of what he mentioned here: http://www.gibberlings3.net/

      As for screen res. I found 1024×768 to work the best, at least on my monitor. My native is 1440×900, but as Sagan points out it makes everything too small. At 1024×768 the text was comfortably readable and the interface nicely scaled. :-)

  16. mlaskus says:

    If you have a tablet(capacitive, so you can use your fingers), try playing Infinity engine games on it. Baldur’s Gate and Planescape Torment have ideal interfaces for it. On an added note, those games look surprisingly stunning in modern resolutions.

  17. Tye The Czar says:

    You know what I’d like to see: Baldur’s Gate I & II officially remade using the Dragon Age engine.
    Can you imagine how wonderful that would be? I think what Bioware would have to do, though, is get the rights from Atari in order to get started. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to see characters such as Imoen and Minsc fully-voiced and rendered in 3D?

  18. Lobotomist says:

    “Greg – If you teach people how to fish they can fish forever, and NWN was a great example of that. Our tools are tied up with the dev process in the company so you actually learn how we make games.
    It’s a little trickier in the console space, but I think it’s safe to say we’re not done with the fan-created content concept yet.”

    This is exactly why (for me) NWN was best RPG game of all times.

    Sadly I dont think same happened with Dragons Age. To complicated i guess.
    In NWN you could literally make a game in under 20 minutes.

    And lacking multiplayer support didnt help either :(

    Now the hint of Bioware making another “game editor” WOW !

    I can only pray it really happens !

    • Mengtzu says:

      Creating gameplay content (quests, combat, dialogue etc) in Dragon Age isn’t really any more difficult than NWN; art is a different story. I’ve shipped more playable time than anyone else with DA:O because I exclusively re-use Bioware art; one of the other story mods, Kal-Sharok, is in a similar position.

      I do understand a big story module with new art and all the trimmings has been recently released, but it’s in German so I haven’t tried it personally.

  19. KilgoreTrout XL says:

    BG2 is the best game of all time as far as I’m concerned.

    There’s a nice widescreen mod for all things baldur if anyone is looking to play through them again.

  20. Nick says:

    And thanks Alec, that was a great bit of insightful.. er.. stuff.

  21. Jimbo says:

    The Baldur’s Gate manual by itself is better than most games. I found it the other day and it is glorious. The note at the back from Brian Fargo is the highlight: “No hype, no marketing campaign; just great games.”

    Ahh, the good old days.

  22. TheTruth says:

    Yay for slowly removing the black from a large bitmap, listening to your adventurers whine about how tire d they are, fake choices, and Starcraft combat for 90 hours.

  23. Nicholas says:

    That doesn’t make quite a lot of sense. BG1 was released a couple of months after Fallout 2, which followed a game so successful that it warranted a sequel in less than a year. Sure, a lot of publishers may have been saying that PCRPG’s were dead, but they still went for the one publisher that had Black Isle, which makes me think that the dismissal was more along the lines of “pc rpgs not made by BI are dead”.

    • Bureaucrat says:

      Fallout clearly published first, but the initial decision to develop BG1 probably came before Interplay knew what kind of a hit Fallout was going to be.

  24. ChampionHyena says:

    Damn it.

    Damn it, damn it, damn it.

    Now I have to go find my discs. Thanks a lot, Alec.

    • Tanysha says:

      I really really wanted to like BG and BG2 but I can’t stand the D&D rules. The second I have to build a character in this horrible, slow, anal-retentive and clunky system every bit of fun is sapped right out of me.
      I’m so glad Mass Effect and Dragon Age left the horrible abomination of the D&D rulesets behind.

      Especially Planescape: Torment was such a beautiful and stunningly written game, but I could never finish it because of it’s torturous roots in D&D.

      The worst Pen & Paper games ever poisoning so many nice games over the years, it’s heartbreaking.

    • FunkyBadger says:

      AD&D, actually (and it was god-awful – especially hard to go back to now)

      Mass Effect and Dragon Age aren’t terribly far removed from 3rd Ed. D&D.

    • Sobric says:

      I’d agree that BG1 is tough to go back to with AD&D rules, because you start at level 1. BG2 made a good move jumping straight to lvl8-10, especially as a spell caster.

      Interestingly, I grew to really like the spell casting system (memorize/rest/use/rest), but only after my 1st play through, because I knew what was coming and could prepare appropriately. Loading up a spell-book with powerful anti-mage spells before a particularly tough battle was always fun.

  25. Dingo says:

    The Baldur’s Gate series was a real eye-opener for me. Never played a rpg with such freedom and depth. Before there was only Lands of Lore for me… First time I heard of D&D was when I installed the game.

    And one thing BG did very good imo was the amount of magic items you could find. Every time you found something new it was like Christmas. Not many games find the balance between just the right amount to keep you going and too much stuff in don’t care anymore.

    I’ll never forget the epic battles against the dragons and the lichs. The surge of adrenaline when I first bested them. Good times!

    I loved the games so much I even solo’ed all three with the same thief char using the Trilogy mod and some AI enhancing mods. Epic! Never had such a feeling of accomplishment again.

    A game that came close to the classic feeling of BG was Drakensang. I was really surprised when I first played it 2 weeks ago. The combat is rather tactical and “slow” enough so you can actually use all your special moves and magics. I really have to get the second one some time. My only criticism would be the generic story and parts of the world/inhabitants.

  26. undead dolphin hacker says:

    Torment is better. And Fallout (1).

    • Davian says:

      Word, brother. BG1/2 are good games, but man, the story in PS:T is so much better, and Fallout actually gives you freedom. I remember the first time I stepped out into the wasteland: this entire world, just for me to play around in? Incredible feeling, has yet to be matched (well, unless we count Arcanum).

    • malkav11 says:

      Than BG1? Absolutely. BG1 is unfocused, meandering, with some unfortunate design choices that can substantially be alleviated by one of the mods that put the game in the sequel’s much better iteration of the engine. But it’s still low level D&D, which is a bad thing. The plot is quite sparse, the sidequests and other ancillary interactivity terse at the very best. There are balance issues. The NPC chatter that the franchise has become known for actually is barely present in the first game. And so on. It’s still an interesting game, probably worth exploring once.

      Than BG2? Ah, -that- is more of a matter of taste, I think. It’s such a sprawling, detailed, dense game full of cool stuff to experience, but I can easily see where one might prefer Torment’s oddball setting, characters, extremely dense narrative, and heavy emphasis on conversational maneuvering over combat, or the stylized post-apocalyptic wasteland, grim humor, and plasma-based ventilation of Fallout. (Although I think Fallout 2 is the better of the two original Fallout games.) And overall I’m definitely more impressed by Black Isle and the studios spawned from it (Troika, Obsidian) than Bioware, whose magnum opus remains BGII and expansion.

  27. Vinraith says:

    The Baldur’s Gate games are the standard by which I judge pretty much all party-based RPG’s, and sadly the vast majority of them come up wanting. D&D licensing aside, I don’t think Bioware is capable of this kind of output anymore, it’s not cinematic enough to suit them. For those of us more interested in playing a game than watching a movie, though, they really do represent the best of the genre.

  28. Bureaucrat says:

    Oddly enough, I am presently re-playing BG1 for the first time in forever. It is a rare thing that I find the tedium involved in mowing the fog of war away from so many map screens less than mind-numbingly boring. (The inventory management is no peach, either.)

    But, for someone who had fond memories of SSI’s Gold Box games, BG1 was a fantastic experience at the time, before I was audacious enough to expect interesting characters, plots that rise above mere cliches, real reactivity to player choices, and RPG rules systems that are less utterly confusing and frequently stupid. And there is just enough magic in the character growth (statistical, not narrative), enemy variety, tactical decisionmaking, and even those parts of the exploration where there is something interesting to find to make my present re-visiting a pleasant experience.

  29. rlol says:

    i think bioware should release this and ps:t on iPad

    • malkav11 says:

      Torment is not a Bioware game and I don’t know that they would have even the most tangential of claims to the license.

  30. Chalee says:

    Mass Effect 2 is excellent by any standard. Please don’t say ‘it’s not an rpg’. You don’t need spreadsheets to have an RPG.

    • Davian says:

      But you do need remotely likable characters and an interesting plot that doesn’t rely on a mountain of boring cliches. Oh, but why change a winning formula, right? Bioshock, Mass Effect and Dragon Age: no spreadsheets or thinking necessary = BEST RPGS EVAR.

  31. 7rigger says:

    @RLol

    I have to disagree. I bought my ipad for university work and releasing PS:T on it would guarantee it would never get used for it :P

  32. Robin says:

    BG2 is quite possibly my all-time favorite game. I feel like it’s been long enough since my last playthrough. Maybe another is in order. I’d been toying with the idea of making some TF2 soundpacks for my main character too.

  33. jigahaganaga says:

    @Gorgeras

    you make it sound like I don’t have it installed all the time in case of such a need.

  34. TCM says:

    PS:T is based on a P&P D&D setting. And uses D&D rules.

  35. jti says:

    YOU WILL LEARN…

  36. Bob's Lawn Service says:

    This is exactly what i was thinking.

  37. Tunips says:

    I never did finish Throne of Bhaal. Towards the end, when my entire party was made out of magic-spewing demigods, and there were titanic hordes of similarly equipped dragons and giants and things in a plot-critical battle, my RAM just gave up and went home.
    I don’t think I’d have the patience these days to get it working again, let alone play the whole thing again. A clever newified special edition might change that.

  38. cw8 says:

    BG2 is one of my favourite games ever. It also has some of the best party members u see in games and one of the best villian in games ever, Irenicus. And the voice-acting is leet. U got the voice of Pooh Bear voicing Minsc etc.
    5 full playthrus of BG2+ToB as a Monk. Gotta try a Kensai/Mage in my next playthrough.

  39. Ian says:

    I tried BG once yonks ago when I had no idea how that sort of game really worked, and keep thinking I ought to return.

    Should I start with Baldur’s Gate or delve straight into Baldur’s Gate 2?

    • Sarlix says:

      That depends on how much time/dedication you have.

      If you were to only play one though I would defiantly recommend BG2 without a doubt.

      I bet after you finished it you would want to make a new char and play right through all three anyway. :-)

  40. Gundrea says:

    Hurray for the Infinity Engine!

    Aurora engine was alright for a bit too.

  41. G_Man says:

    I see what you did thar

  42. John K. says:

    The gibberlings3.net site has been suspended by the host. Methinks this post has caused a surge in page loads?

    See what you did there RPS?

  43. Chalee says:

    Likeable characters are not strictly speaking necessary for a good RPG, although I agree that you will find likeable characters in most good RPGs. I also find characters like Mordin, Kasumi and Joker likeable. There are cliches in Mass Effect 2′s plot & world true enough (sexy blue skin ladies ftw!), but voice acting is solid, the world is well realized and characters generally well developed. Your criticism is not really substantiated by the game itself.

  44. Dereth says:

    Not a doubt in my mind that this is the game that I’ve enjoyed and played the most. I’ve lost count on how many playthroughs I’ve done, and I’m actually working on one right now. Series’ over twelve years old and haven’t aged a bit. Amazing game, shame they’ve gone mainstream with this Dragon Age crap.

    Dragon Age: Origins was “ok”, managed to play through it three times – second one’s headed a direction I’m not very fond of.

  45. Ergonpandilus says:

    I always liked Baldur’s Gate I better, with ToSC. It’s better as an adventure game. I like the freedom and all the areas like Beregost, Cloakwood, Lighthouse area, Ulgoth’s Beard and of course, city of Baldur’s Gate.

    BG Tutu is nice, but definatelly not mandatory.

  46. NickR says:

    Greatest RPG game EVER.

  47. Fobo says:

    Baldur’s Gate saga (1,ToSC, 2, ToB ), BEST RPG EVER MADE. I’ve made 3 playthroughs with different classes (Assassin, Conjurer (Specialized Mage), and Kensai/Mage), and i’ve tried at least once every single class of BG 2 (how many times i’ve heard Irenicus: “aah, the child of Bhaal has awoken…”).
    Every 1-2 years i reinstall BG 2 + ToB and play just a little…now i’m going to finish it for the 4th time with a solo rouge (a Bounty Hunter i think).
    It’s impressive how this game could be exciting every time i play it…and it never gets old, Infinity Engine is alwais so stunning to my eyes…i think is just so perfect.
    Baldur’s Gate will alwais be the paragon i’ll use to value all other games.

Comment on this story

XHTML: Allowed code: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>