Over the past week, dataminers have been rifling through Baldur's Gate 3's code and have discovered a dragon's hoard of alleged "cut content". It's hard to specify what they've unearthed without accidentally sounding the Major Spoilers trumpet and initiating Armageddon, but the supposed buried offerings include additional areas, swathes of dialogue, storylines, cutscenes, characters, romance opportunities and even deities. Given just how much Larian's gargantuan RPG gives you to play with, I am kind of thankful for a generous amount of stuff being "left out" - certainly, I don't need any more romanceable NPCs, I'm already fending them off with a broomhandle. But the news has gone down badly with a few players, and especially those who feel the game's overall quality takes a dive in acts 2 and 3.
Developers have come to Larian's defence, amongst them David Gaider, former Baldur's Gate 2 and Dragon Age writer, who is nowadays creative director of Summerfall Games, creator of the very earwormy STRAY GODs: The Roleplaying Musical. "Not surprised to hear of the amount of stuff apparently cut from BG3," Gaider wrote on Twix. "BG2 had a mountain of stuff cut over its development, some early and some even after lots of work had gone into it... almost every game does. Every DA game did. Heck, even Stray Gods had some considerable cuts."
Gaider had a few Top Tips for conversations about game cuts. "1. If it was cut late, it probably wasn't working - technically or conceptually or both. 2. A lot of cuts were early enough it was never "real" to start with. 3. Most cuts can't be resurrected. It'd be easier to start over, tbh."
But what if the game materials in question still exist in the game's files, another Twitter user objected? "Just because there's some residue remaining in the files doesn't mean it was anywhere near a state where it was playable," said Gaider. "Some might be and it's just bugged, though... but that's different than a cut, I'd say."
Gaider mused elsewhere that players often "form this mental image like it was this perfect, functional thing that the devs removed for arbitrary reasons, when the truth is a lot would remain cut even if those devs magically got extra time to work on the game."
Arenanet narrative design lead Matthew Medina offered his own list of possible reasons for trimming games down, including features being finished too late to undergo proper testing, project scope "ballooning" to the point that it's no longer economical to continue development, and content being tonally out of synch with other stuff in the game.
"I could build half a dozen games from the amount of content that I've cut in my career," Medina observed. "Cut content is usually cut for very legit reasons. Players might think it wasteful & sometimes it may be, but that doesn't take away from the fact that it can be necessary."
Larian have now joined the conversation, with CEO Sven Vincke telling IGN that the alleged cuts were "editorial decisions" to avoid exhausting players and stop certain areas becoming "boring". Vincke also shot down a rumour that the excisions were carried out to ensure that Baldur's Gate 3 made release on 3rd August 2023 - it was originally slated to launch today, 31st August, which might have ended badly for everybody.
"We had actually been locked in for quite some time on what was going to be in the game because these games are too large to make big decisions like that and cut things two weeks before release," Vincke explained to the site's Kat Bailey. "So you wouldn't do that. But I mean it's normal. And I guess it's also kind of a compliment, people wanting more content."
"So when it comes to the city [of Baldur's Gate]... we made a big city actually. When you hit that, you'll see there's really a lot to do. But we noticed, and that was something that took us by surprise, there are people that are exploring the full city, which is what we intended. That's quite a lot of content. So we didn't want to repeat that ad nauseum so that it became too much because by then you already played for over a hundred hours."
It's "not true that we cut large swaths of it," Vincke went on. "That's been our intention all along. There were certain small things that we did cut, but that's just part of re-scoping as you finish a game."All of this echoes an official Larian update from earlier this week, in which Larian fessed up to trimming down the game's epilogues out of concern that players would lose momentum. The developers have conceded to the fanbase on this front, and plan to re-expand those epilogues in coming Baldur's Gate 3 patches, beginning with a new optional finale for widely beloved acute heartburn victim Karlach. Watch on YouTube
Save for occasions when a publisher is overtly setting aside material for DLC that really feels like it belongs in the game, I'm rarely outraged by "cut content" myself. Game development is unpredictable and uneven, and looking at things from a writer's perspective, being selective is just part of the composition process. I'm still tunnelling towards the Baldur's Gate 3 endgame, mind you, so can't really speak to the claim about the difference in substance between act 1 and act 2-3.
While I can understand why developers fear to broach the subject, I'm generally fascinated to hear about what got left on the cutting room floor, and I enjoy searching game worlds for "residue", as Gaider put it. For instance: there's an entire, populated citadel in The Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver that was supposed to play a more significant role in the story, but exists only as an optional side area. It's a joy to explore, partly for that atmosphere of unfinished business, and while I'm hungry for a Soul Reaver remake, I dread to think of it being "rehabilitated" into the rest of the game. I also enjoy games that simulate chopped material and write stories about it, like Analgesic's Anodyne 2. Have you come across any memorable conspicuous gaps or scar tissue in a game's fabric yourself?
Disclosure: Former RPS deputy editor Adam Smith (RPS in peace) now works at Larian and is the lead writer for Baldur's Gate 3. Former contributor Emily Gera also works on it.