Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition Interview

25 Jun 2012

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Beamdog
Developer:Overhaul Games
Release Date:2012-11-28
Genre:
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Isometric
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
Considering that it's been over 12 years since we were introduced to our Bhaalspawn heritage, it's pretty amazing to see just how much excitement Overhaul Games was able to drum up with their announcement of a Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition. And while we've learned a lot about the revision's scope through Twitter, we felt it was important to bring you as much information as we could in traditional Q&A fashion. So without further adieu, here's our brand new interview with Overhaul/Beamdog founder Trent Oster:


GB: So what exactly is Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition? What should we expect when it hits later this summer?

Trent: Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition is the best version of Baldur's Gate we could imagine. We've added new content in the form of new adventures, new characters and new items. We've rebuilt the User Interface to make it work on all resolutions and aspect ratio screens. We've rebuilt the rendering system to utilize display hardware for better graphics, better performance and we've brought the game to new platforms. Basically it will be the Baldur's Gate you remember, but broadly improved.


GB: When did you first come up with the idea to work on such a project, and what was the reaction from Wizards of the Coast and Atari when you approached them about it?

Trent: Shortly after leaving Bioware and partnering with Cameron to found Beamdog in 2009, we made a list of 20 or so games we felt needed to be updated. Baldur's Gate 1 and 2 were at the top of that list. We dug into the ownership and began talking with Atari regarding the games in 2010. The initial approach was rough as it took a while to get the right message to the right set of ears. Once we had a basic understanding of the goals, we started working out the legal details. Since the deal had so many stakeholders (Bioware, EA, Hasbro, Wizards of the Coast, Atari and Beamdog) it took a long while to get the specifics worked out. Our initial proposal was to build an HD version of Baldur's Gate until we discovered Bioware had lost almost all of the source art and as such an HD version was impossible. We were devastated. But we picked ourselves up and re-scoped around the idea of "enhancing" the existing version with new features and new content while bringing it to new platforms. As is, we've had a very hard time keeping ourselves in check and not going overboard with the updates and fixes.


GB: We understand that BG:EE will include Tales of the Sword Coast, but are you adding any new quests, items, and characters of your own?

Trent: Yes, BG:EE includes the Tales of the Sword Coast as a part of the game. We are adding new items, quests and characters to the game. We've been busy building a very solid adventure creation team over the last year and the new content is looking great. We've even brought back a number of former Baldur's Gate team members to help out.


GB: Can you give us an example of one of the new characters you’re adding to the game, and how he or she will fit in to the original storyline? How about an example or two from the new items?

Trent: We're not really ready to talk much about the new characters and their storylines. What I can say is at least one of the new characters is found along the main story path and he brings some baggage with him. Item-wise, we're just trying to fill out the magical item selection for some of the new characters classes and kits.

GB: Beyond the content and engine scope, will you be doing anything with the game's music or sound effects? It might be difficult to add voiceovers for main characters (that already have existing voiced dialogue from 15 years ago), but would you consider adding voiceovers to some of the lesser known characters in the game?

Trent: Due to a small wrinkle, we are limited to only adding new voice-over for new content we create. We'd love to add a ton of new Minsc content to the original game, but we are unable to. But, a new expansion with even more Minsc? well, if the planets align and Jim Cummings is available we'd love to see it happen. Music-wise, I managed to tackle Sam Hulick (of Mass Effect fame) while down at GDC and "convince" him to help us out on the music front. We've already increased the amount of music Sam was supposed to provide twice as his work has been so amazing.


GB: With BG:EE hitting the iPad, PC, and Mac, are there any other platforms that you'd like to bring the title to? Have you considered consoles?

Trent: We've done some hard thinking about console versions and we feel the user interface of Baldur's Gate would be a huge effort to re-target at a console control scheme. We think it is possible (we just had another request for a PS3 version today), but well outside our scope as an independent developer to deliver at the quality bar we hold ourselves to.


GB: How will you be distributing the Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition at launch? Will it be exclusive to Beamdog, or might we see it on Steam and other digital download platforms on day one?

Trent: Day one Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition will be exclusive to Beamdog on the PC, the Mac App Store and iTunes for the iPad. We're working out a Beamdog player-free solution for the BG fans that really don't want another client, so the user experience should be great.


GB: If Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition sells well, would you consider giving the same overhaul to Icewind Dale, Icewind Dale II, and Planescape: Torment if the powers that be would greenlight it?

Trent: Yes. Icewind Dale and Torment were on our list of games that need some loving.


GB: Have you been in contact with BioWare at all since this project became a reality, if only to ask some questions about making modifications to the Infinity Engine?

Trent: We had a good amount of initial contact with Bioware as we searched high and low for all the BG assets and they have been very supportive. For modifications to the engine, there are not very many people left from the Infinity Engine days at Bioware, so we've been on our own a great deal. We've asked a few former Bioware employees the odd question, and we've hired a few as well, so our understanding is quite good. We also did a lot of work to update the core bits of the engine, so a great deal of the code has changed.


GB: How many people are actively working on the Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition at the moment? The Infinity Engine modding scene is still going strong - have you considered recruiting any long-time mod creators for the project?

Trent: We are a pretty dynamic team, with 18 people working on the game currently, some contractors, some employees. Of that 18, 9 have Bioware experience and 8 have Baldur's Gate experience. We're in the process of integrating ourselves with the modding community and I can say for certain, if BG:EE is successful, we will be recruiting from that talent pool.

GB: Can you give us a quick rundown of all the ex-BioWare folks who have come on board?

Trent: So, Cam and I both put in some time on BG. I ran multiplayer testing for three months at the end of the project, Cam did some help with code and rendering optimizations. We also have Marcia Tofer, who did environment art on Baldur's Gate and art directed Baldur's Gate 2. Marcia is building the new area content along with another BG2 alumni, Russ Rice. Russ did area art and special effects for BG2 and he's hard at work on area art for us right now. John Gallagher who concepted all of BG1 and BG2 has provided a ton of great area concepts for our new content. Keith Soleski is hard at work on scripting. Keith made a tour through QA, then technical production at Bioware. After Dragon magazine and writing some Forgotten Realms novels, Dave Gross did his time at Bioware, going through the James Ohlen design bootcamp and digging into the Bioware method of writing games. We've had some audio assistance from Dave Chan, former audio lead at Bioware. Mike Sass was there to help us early on with the updates "Enhanced Edition" logo and ongoing work. Mike was responsible for all the BG character portraits and a lot of the original promotional artwork. Since we're a small shop, some people have already completed their work and have moved on. For example, John Gallagher is back doing movie / television concept work. We're trying to plan again to ensure we can pull him back for all out future content needs. We're also in the process of bringing another person on to help who people might recognize from another game, but we'll talk about that later.


GB: Have you ever reached out to Alan Miranda and the other folks at Ossian Studios to collaborate on this or another project? Alan and his team seem to have the old school BioWare mentality that runs parallel to what you’re doing with the Enhanced Editions.

Trent: Ahh, Alan Miranda. I love that guy. Alan was the best producer I ever had, he preserved my sanity during the all the crazy times of Neverwinter Nights. I can't really speculate on what Alan and his gang are up to after "The Shadow Sun", but we'd be very happy to collaborate with them on something awesome.


GB: If Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition and Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition sell well, would you prefer to move on to the remaining Infinity Engine games or pursue an entirely new title in the Baldur’s Gate franchise?

Trent: Regardless of how the game sells, we are committed to making a BG2 Enhanced Edition. We are still discussing the other Infinity Engine games and a potential BG3 with our partners at Wizards of the Coast and Atari. At the moment, we're trying to be flexible and seize the right opportunities. Regardless of the outcome, we will have a team that knows how to make a great RPG and has experience on PC, Mac and iPad, which puts us in a pretty great spot. The recent Kickstarter successes paint a pretty picture for experienced teams executing on the games they love to build, so we're pretty jazzed about the opportunities even if we can't make the other stuff happen.


GB: Hypothetically speaking, where would you take a new Baldur’s Gate title? Would you shoot for a direct continuation to the Bhaalspawn storyline, explore other plot threads that the original story only briefly touched upon, take the prequel route, or do something entirely unexpected?

Trent: I'd have to go with option B or C. The great story has been told, the player character has become a god-like being at the end of Throne of Bhaal. We need to tell another great story. We would however, link as much as possible to the rich story and characters of the BG series. We're excited to do a BG3, but we need to do a deal in order to make that happen, so we've held off on committing any work to the concept.


GB: Do you think the crazy amount of excitement leading up to the announcement of the Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition and the enormous success of the many "old school"-inspired Kickstarter projects say something about the current state of the industry? Are modern publishers and developers completely overlooking what appears to be a huge demand out there for another party-based RPG?

Trent: We were blown away by the excitement around the BG announcement. It was great to see all these people with the same enthusiasm for the games as we have. While our announcement was awesome and the Wasteland kickstarter was a great success, I don't think our market is nearly as large as the market for the latest Call of Battlefield 13 game. As a result, I do not see modern publishers chasing after the opportunity. Party-based RPGs also have a very unique series of requirements from an engine and a development team, so there are added challenges to building the games which limit the number of teams willing to chase after them. If the Wasteland 2 Kickstarter had gone to $20 or $30 million, I think the major publishers would have taken note, but as is, I think we've got a beautiful niche where the teams that love the games can deliver great games to the fans who want to buy them. We're ecstatic to be working in the space and we are really looking forward to delivering some great work for the fans.


GB: Thanks for your time, Trent!