In a matter of of days, one of the most iconic RPGs of the late 90s/early 2000s makes its return to the gaming scene. With Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition (BG:EE) set to hit the marketplace on November 28th, Tor.com recently had the opportunity to speak with the man behind the magic—Beamdog head and BG:EE creative director Trent Oster—about a range of topics, including Baldur’s Gate II and III, development delays, and the state of modern PC gaming.
Tor.com: BG: EE is being developed on a revamped version of the Infinity engine—the engine upon which the original Baldur’s Gate games were built. How much of the engine did you have to re-build or re-write to bring it up to speed, and what kind of technical enhancements have been added?
Oster: We initially planned a very surgical rework for the engine technology. Our plan was “to ninja in, fix a couple things and ninja back out.” That ninja plan died a horrible death early on. We realized the scope of work required to improve the engine how we wanted, and a simple Ninja effort would not suffice. I would guess we’ve rewritten over half the engine at this point. The major enhancements from the re-work are:
- Shader-based upscaling of artwork: We can display the art at much higher resolutions than the original game and it looks much improved.
- Performance: The old engine was spending 70% of [its] time blocking memory; this bottleneck and many others have been eliminated, allowing the game to run much better.
- Multi-platform support: BG was never meant to run on the iPad/Android or Mac. We’ve rebuilt the core of the engine to run across all these platforms.
- Multi-platform multiplayer: We rebuilt the engine such that an iPad can play with a Mac, with an Android tablet, and a PC. Any device can play with any other device.
- All new UI support, re-based at higher resolution, which means the game looks better from top to bottom.
Tor.com: While a number of former BioWare developers are now a part of your games division, Overhaul Games, have you been in touch with any other developers involved with the original BG with regard to feedback or constructive criticism of the Enhanced Edition? If so, how has the EE been received by them?
Oster: We’ve hassled a few people from the original development team and we’ve had a few beta-testing for us. The feedback came in a few stages: The first was “I forgot how hard this game is,” followed by “The music is great!” Along the way we had a ton of ideas on how to make the game better and more accessible. The biggest feedback is probably that the game has improved a great deal from when the testing first started.
Tor.com: Currently, we know that BG: EE will launch on PCs, Macs, and iOS. Will you be exploring any other platforms for release (consoles, Linux), or employing a wait-and-see approach?
Oster: We are in talks regarding a Linux version of the game. Way back in my former life at Bioware, I pushed very hard for a Linux version of Neverwinter Nights. I stand by that decision and I’m glad I can push again for [the] platform, this time for Baldur’s Gate. We can’t really see a console version as the control re-work required to make it a great game would be very intensive in time and effort.
Tor.com: What factors led to delaying BG: EE until November 28? Anything significant, or just taking the time to really polish the final product?
Oster: We simply were not happy with the quality of the product. We played the build of the game, laid out all the [must-fix] bugs and we could not ship the game we wanted by the original date. We immediately contacted out partners and started working out terms for a delay in the product. The fellows at the Wizards of the Coast were very supportive. Our team strongly believes in the idea that if we make a great game, we will be successful. We would not have had a great game in September. As an independent developer, the financial burden of that decision rested on us and I’m happy we were able to shoulder it to make a better game.
Tor.com: It was recently announced that the Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition (along with the expansion) will be out in Summer 2013. How far along is it right now, assuming it’s being worked on in parallel to the first game?
Oster: We haven’t announced it, so much as leaked it. I’m bad for that ;-) We are currently in pre-production on the new content and we’ve learned a ton of what makes for fun gameplay. Engine-wise, we are using the same engine, so from a technical standpoint, we’ve made great progress. However, our outstanding feature list is still very large.
Tor.com: You’ve mentioned on Twitter that Overhaul would be interested in taking on Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment (probably my favorite RPG ever) after the Enhanced Editions of BG I and II have been completed. Has anything been firmed up in regard to either of those IPs?
Oster: We are interested in the concept, but so far we have not made any progress. Our partners have expressed a desire to wait and see how BG:EE does before committing to future products.
Tor.com: While we’re on the topic of future projects... you were extensively involved in the development of Neverwinter Nights. Is the NWN franchise on Overhaul’s radar at all?
Oster: We’ve talked a bit about NWN. The idea of an overhauled NWN sounds interesting, but again, our partners want to take a wait and see approach to the success of BG:EE.
Tor.com: I think I know the answer to this question already, but can you tell us anything new about the possibility of Baldur’s Gate III?
Oster: BG III is in the same boat as all the other projects: we like the idea, but we’ve got to show some success with BG:EE before we can move forward.
Tor.com: The name, Overhaul Games, suggests you enjoy breathing new life into classics, but does the studio have any plans or desire to create a new, unique standalone title or IP?
Oster: I view Overhaul Games as more than taking old games and bringing them back to life. We chose Overhaul Games as our name to represent our attitude around game development as well. We think game development is about skilled developers working hard to make great products—we wanted a strong blue-collar association. We chose to embrace the idea that game development is mostly about execution and the best way to execute well is to have skilled developers and to stay out of their way, giving direction, not micro-management. Our goal is to remain a small team of committed individuals who work hard and make great games and I think the Overhaul moniker keeps us in touch with that ideal.
Tor.com: As dedicated PC gamers, we’re interested in an insider’s perspective to this next question. Digital distribution outlets like Steam and Beamdog have helped breathe new life into what may previously have been considered a dying genre. In what direction do you see the future of PC gaming heading? Are you concerned at all with its current state?
Oster: I see PC gaming growing. I think digital distribution is just starting to open up the rest of the gaming world. I think PC gaming is going to grow; for some game formats (RTS, FPS) the PC is the undisputed king and will remain so. For other types of games, the PC is still a very strong choice ( I play almost everything on the PC, Skyrim, etc). I think the PC is a great gaming platform as a whole and with digital distribution allowing the creators to connect directly with the players, I look forward to some amazing new PC games.
Tor.com: One of the best aspects of PC gaming is the community and the additional, ongoing TLC a game gets after launch (Skyrim and Half-Life come readily to mind, among too many others to count). Will BG: EE be mod/community-friendly on release?
Oster: We’ve worked closely with some of the best BG modders out there to remain mod-compatible in every way possible. We have our ongoing plans for new content and new features and we have [earmarked] improving mod support as a long term and ongoing effort. With Neverwinter Nights, I really pushed the idea of the democratization of game development as a core philosophy. I still hold the belief that making games is a ton of fun and more people should try it and share the games they develop. Modding is the best means to getting your feet wet in game making and I really love the directions a modding effort can pull a game in.
Tor.com: What are some of the games that have had the biggest influence in shaping your own development vision? What vision do you adhere to when working with games like MDK2 and Baldur’s Gate, which are already classics?
Oster: The games I lean the most on are the games I was involved in developing. During the development of NWN we knew it was going to be hard, but we believed it was going to be an amazing game. Any time a decision came up, we always tried to make the best decision for the game. We have the same philosophy as the early days of Bioware: make a great game and we will succeed. If a company is directed by profit,or shareholder return, you can easily make the wrong decision for the game you are working on. My personal view is that money is the fuel that feeds the creative engine; it is a means to an end and not the end itself. We make games to make great games, and if they are financially successful enough, it frees us to make more games.
Tor.com: Finally, you mentioned earlier that you were an avid reader. What books are sitting on your bedside table these days?
Oster: I don’t know if I would go for avid. Frenetic seems more appropriate. I’ll start a new book, read it as quickly as possible, losing sleep in the process and then try to avoid starting another, knowing the price. I just finished reading our own Dave Gross’ new release, Queen of Thorns. I had planned a slow read, an hour here and there. I think I finished the book at 4AM the other night, less than a week after starting.
I still have a few books on my must read list (which Dave adds to almost daily) but The Name of the Wind is probably the next book in my reading pile. I still have the entire Malazan Book of the Fallen [series] sitting beside my bed, despite finishing it when the last novel released. After The Name of the Wind I’m planning on reading Dave’s Forgotten Realms books: Black Wolf and Lord of Stormweather.
We’d like to thank Trent for taking some time out of a very busy schedule for chatting with us. Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition launches worldwide on November 28 for PC, Mac, and iOS.