1998’s Dungeons & Dragons adaptation Baldur’s Gate wasn’t BioWare‘s first game, but it was the one that really made the KOTOR and Mass Effect studio’s name. These days they’re making shooty-bang games for EA, so it’s hard not to feel that Baldur’s Gate lead designer James Ohlen parting ways with the uber-studio marks a chapter closing and an new one beginning. D&D is Ohlen’s one true love, he claims, and it’s to that he’s returning – a book publishing venture based on the venerable pen’n’paper RPG.
Throw a rock in the air, and whichever BiowWre game it hits, James Ohlen worked on it. From QA on 1996’s Shattered Steel to Design Director on the ill-fated Mass Effect: Andromeda, he’s been there. And now he’s off, after 22 years. His plan is to go back to his roots, those being the D&D-inspired games of BioWare’s distant past.
“The most fun I’ve ever had at BioWare was as the lead designer on Baldur’s Gate 1+2 and Neverwinter Nights. I’ve been a D&D fanatic since I was 10 years old and I want to be a part of it again,” he tweeted yesterday, also revealing that “I need to take a break from the industry and work on something a little smaller and more personal.”
That something turns out to be putting out official books for Wizards Of The Coast’s D&D, under his newly-forged publishing outfit Arcanum Worlds. Their first release will be Odyssey of the Dragonlords, a new sourcebook for the fifth edition of D&D. Joining him in the venture is Jesse Sky, another senior Bioware designer, and an as-yet undisclosed mystery writer from Austin. Hey, didn’t Mass Effect scribe Drew Karpyshyn also say Bye-o-Ware recently?
If this feels a bit groundhog day, well, you’re right. A few other big BioWare names have sought out pastures new of late, including Dragon Age lead designer Mike Laidlaw and Mass Effect project director Casey Hudson, who left in 2014 but returned to a different role in 2017. Not sure I can blame ’em – being in the same job (or increasingly senior variations thereof) for such a long spell can become an onerous thing, and the itch to try one’s hand at something else surely becomes hard to ignore. A few big old BioNames remain and are and working on Anthem however, including art director Derek Watts and creative director Preston Watamaniuk.
Thanks for all the kobolds and sexy space-times, Mr Ohlen, and good luck with those dungeons.