The Struggle to Bring Back Baldur’s Gate After 17 Years

With Baldur's Gate: Siege of Dragonspear having landed squarely on our hard drives two days ago, the editors at Kotaku sat down and chatted up the Beamdog development team about the challenges they endured to modernize the series, the reverse-engineering that was required to properly polish them up, the development goals they had with the new expansion pack, whether this will all lead to a Baldur's Gate III, and much more. It's a long article, so here's a generous sampling:

The Enhanced Editions? Those were phase one, a means of getting the ol' Infinity Engine sea legs back. I'm not being (entirely) metaphorical when I use that terminology, either. You see, many of the assets used in the original Baldur's Gate games literally drowned.

(It was a big challenge because all of the Baldur's Gate original assets like the 3D models that make up these sprites, the 3D models for the levels in the original game, these archives were lost,) explained Beamdog lead designer Phillip Daigle during a recent interview at an event in San Francisco. (There was a data tape in some guy's garage, and it flooded, and it was gone. There goes the history of Baldur's Gate. That's the case with a lot of classic games. There was a single archive, it was in some guy's basement and sorry, the disc rotted, and it's gone now.)

The video game industry does a notoriously terrible job of preserving its history, so Beamdog had to start almost from scratch, reverse-engineering their own tools to remix and remaster games BioWare and Black Isle created many years ago. In some cases, it was a more... obtuse process than in others. Daigle showed me a crowded town square, a bustling city center writ large in dilapidated cobblestone. It looked nice, even by modern day graphical standards. Once upon a time, though, it was coffee.

(In the original Baldur's Gate,) explained Daigle, (these cobble stone streets here, this was just a close up picture of coffee beans and they just repeated over and over again. In '˜98 you had a 15 inch CRT, so you're not going to notice or care probably. Nowadays when you've got an HD screen, you're like, '˜Oh, those are coffee beans.' We had to render out new streets and then lay them into the original 2D art and then paint over it. It was this whole process.)


(If there was something for the original Baldur's Gate that just doesn't mesh for modern day gamers like the sexism, [we tried to address that],) said writer Amber Scott. (In the original there's a lot of jokes at women's expense. Or if not a lot, there's a couple, like Safana was just a sex object in BG 1, and Jaheira was the nagging wife and that was played for comedy. We were able to say, '˜No, that's not really the kind of story we want to make.' In Siege of Dragonspear, Safana gets her own little storyline, she got a way better personality upgrade. If people don't like that, then too bad.)

(I got to write a little tender, romance-y side quest for Khalid and Jaheira where you could learn a little bit about how their marriage works and how they really feel about each other.)

There's also four new companions, one of whom is gay, one of whom is bisexual. There's even a monster companion, a throwback to a Baldur's Gate II easter egg. But it's not just about representation for representation's sake. Beamdog wanted to give players options.

(We've got four new companions, and then there's the returned Enhanced Edition companions and then a bunch of companions from Baldur's Gate 1,) said Daigle. (There's a very wide and large roster in this game. You can build whatever kind of party you want. One of the problems in BG 1 and 2 was that it was kind of hard to have an evil party that worked. We put a lot of work into making it so can have an evil party that won't screw you over, that will work in the game. You can be that evil character you want to be.)