Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Holy Grail

Long time readers of this blog may suppose – given my interest in medieval history – that I’m about to write about the Knights Templars or some DaVinci Code crap, but that isn’t the case. Rather, I’m talking about the Holy Grail of CRPGs...

First a bit of history. Back in the 80s, I became enthralled in D&D P&P sessions, and I had a small group that would occasionally play games when we could. By about 1990 or so, that phase had ended for me. My college days focused more on games that could be easily played over the dorm LAN such as Warcraft II, Starcraft, or Fortress Quake, but after I graduated in 1999, I started looking at CRPGs. By 2000 my eye fell on Baldur’s Gate II, and I was instantly captivated by how amazing RPGs had become.

Over the next couple years, I bought BG1, the Icewind Dale series, Planescape: Torment, the NWN series, and even Temple of Elemental Evil, all of which I loved to one extent or another, but Baldur’s Gate has always been the gold standard to me.

I also have always been a D&D homer. This probably stems from my childhood memories, but I can honestly say that my interest in playing Mass Effect, Knights of the Old Republic, and World of Warcraft is zero, and my interest in Dragon Age is just barely north of zero. On the other hand, if a D&D-themed game came out tomorrow, I’d be there to buy it unless the reviews were terrible. And I mean REALLY terrible. I bought ToEE after all.

Needless to say, this makes the current situation between WotC and Atari quite annoying.

So a couple weeks ago, I reloaded BG1 onto my computer, and I must say that while some of it still holds up, it is certainly showing its age. I don’t necessarily think the graphics are all that horrible, although the Infinity Engine is certainly archaic. Rather, the simplicity of the dialogs and quests along with the horrible pathing and blatantly bad AI all make the game frustrating to those accustomed to more recent improvements.

That got me thinking about BG III. I remember a couple years ago – give or take several months – that I was talking to an Ossian-mate about potential new projects when I called BG III the "Holy Grail." For the record, he disagreed and thought something else was... but that’s a story for another time.

But my point was that the BG series is unique in the history of CRPGs, and not just for me. I would imagine that the great majority of CRPG fans / modders would have BG III very high on the list if they were told to make a wish about any project they would want to be green-lighted for. However, with the pending litigation over D&D rights, not only is BG III not a realistic idea for the near future, I don’t even think any serious D&D-themed RPG is. And, no, I don’t count Cryptic’s MMORPG as a serious RPG. Actually, by the time the dust is settled, I doubt a BG III ever comes out. It’s already 11 years since BG II, and I can’t think of many games that had 15 or more years between sequels... although Starcraft comes close.

So then that got me thinking. What if a group of modders just decided to make BG III in, say, the NWN2 toolset? I’m thinking about a major effort along the lines of Misery Stone or Purgatorio. It would certainly be possible, although it would take a lot of dedication from many people with little or no recognition for years. That's tough. After all, Misery Stone, though a great game as is, was admittedly hurried out the door towards the end. I assume the group realized continued interest by the development team was flagging and needed to just get it out. And Purgatorio is, well, in purgatory.

But if it could be done - so long as the game was offered for free - it would be perfectly legal. And if enough word of mouth could be generated, might it even become a somewhat "official" version in the absence of anything else?

But what would BG III look like? What would be the "must haves" without which one couldn’t lay claim to the title? My (probably incomplete) list would look something like:

* Single player campaign
* 80 – 100 hours of gameplay
* A minimum of 10 – 12 NPCs that can be substituted in and out from a party of 6.
* NPC-based quests
* Romances
* A story-line somehow tied in to the Bhaal-spawn legend
* Most of the game taking place in a city environment, although large portions can be outside the city

My gut is that, as the Bhaal-spawn is now either a god or has turned down the Throne of Bhaal and is merely an incredibly powerful mortal, I would think the third chapter would start over with a new protagonist starting at level 1 and perhaps going up to level 10 or so. However, I wouldn’t put this as a "must have" to be a legitimate successor.

I think all of this is more than possible with a two-year development time, so long as the team didn’t have to develop an engine (which it wouldn’t in this scenario). MoW took roughly six months to build once all the design documents were done and another couple months of testing. MoW clocked in at around 20-25 hours and had 3 NPCs. Expanding the six months to two years would lead to 80-100 hours and 12 NPCs. As each of those companions already had an associated quest, this work is already included in the 3 NPCs in 6 months metric. The only additional effort would be to include romances... a topic for a different post. Anyway, yes, the analysis is simple, but it gives a rough order of magnitude. I do think it could be done...

But it won't. All of this is obviously just a bit of day-dreaming on my part. Truthfully, I’ve finally accepted that the BG series is dead and now relegated to the warm, fuzzy, halcyon days of yesteryear... right alongside my memories of the red box set.

But what a pleasant dream it is.


Nemorem said...

Yeah, people keep talking about what a great year it is for RPGs, but without a DnD title, it's hard for me to get excited.

Regarding another Baldur's Gate game... another possibility would be a prequel, possibly set during the Time of Troubles or immediately afterward. That would allow you to expand on the Bhalspawn theme without breaking continuity. It would also make it possible to include characters from the first two games, like Gorion, Firkaag, etc. Maybe a pre-lichified Kangaxx as a companion?

Such a thing probably wouldn't be possible in an officially licensed game, as WotC would likely insist on the game following the current Forgotten Realms timeline. But a mod project could do it.

For me, it wouldn't feel like a BG game if it were using the NWN2 engine, though. NWN2 doesn't give you as much control, and fights often devolve into chaotic free-for-alls. This is one area where I feel Dragon Age made good on its promise to be an heir to those IE games - the tactical combat and AI is spot-on. Of course, DA poses so many other problems.

Anonymous said...

Baldur's Gate III was called the Black Hound and one of the Developers was working on it for NWN 2 tool set.
but gave up on it.

I am looking for the blog on Baldur's Gate III he had.

there is nothing there now!
there used to be an awesome Blog on this, I wanted to ask about the music.

Baldur’s Gate 3: The Black Hound

Baldur’s Gate III: The Black Hound (code named Jefferson and FR6) was mentioned in early 2001 as a new game in the Baldur’s Gate series to be made by Black Isle Studios using a completely new 3D engine.

BG3 was originally going to be a departure from the high-powered epic of the Bhaalspawn saga to a low-key, roleplaying plot. With protagonists progressing to around level four at the end of BIS’ typically enormous campaign and a hard cap at level eight, gameplay was refocussed to a flat and wide adventure emphasizing quests over combat. In fact, the game was only titled “Baldur’s Gate” due to Interplay having lost the general D&D license to Atari, but still retaining the right to make Baldur’s Gate branded D&D games.


for games I don't consider BG2 to be the be all of all RPG's....There just to many different styles on bringing the RPG to games.
I remember Ultima 4 for the Commador 64 LOL!

Alazander said...

Those are pretty much my thoughts exactly. Though, I'd be more than happy with an entirely new story in the spirit of BG (with all the features you mentioned). For me, the splendour of BG2 is not so much in its story and characters, great though they are, but rather in the paradigm it represents.

I've thought strongly about doing a NWN2 project in the style of BG2 (smaller, of course) -- but until The Shadow Sun is finished, I think it's wiser to hold off.

Starwars said...

The Black Hound was never meant to be a Baldurs Gate game, if I remember correctly, they called it that because that was the only D&D title that Interplay had the license to use or some such thing back when it was being made. There was no connection to Baldurs Gate and it was meant to be a stand-alone thing, simply The Black Hound. I know you mentioned this but I think it's sorta faulty to mention it since it really was only the name and D&D license that were connected.

I always liked Baldurs Gate 2 but I must admit that I do not share the enthusiasm a lot of people have about it. I really liked Athkatla and how that was made (still one of the greatest cRPG cities I think) but once you leave that behind in the game, my interest drops instantly.

I think it's because of a few different things. One is that I was never a big fan of D&D, even during my PnP days and so that part of it didn't really pull me in.

Secondly, I didn't like how they jammed the turnbased system of D&D into the realtime w pause thing in BG1 (I still consider that to be a really dire decision in the history of cRPGs, realtime w pause had existed before but BG really popularized it)

And thirdly, I had played Fallout 1 the year before BG1 and it really vibed with my personal wants a lot more. It was based a lot more around your character and the effect your choice (and you character build) had on the world, more driven by the player. BG1 was a lot more driven by its story and I remember being disappointed by that at the time since I was erroneously expecting a more Fallout like design.

BG2 was a big improvement over BG1 though and is my second favorite Bioware game. But the interest I have in it is pretty much confined solely to the exploration-based aspects of it (again, mostly Athkatla), the whole story of the Bhaal-spawn never pulled me in like it did with many other players.

Kamal said...

So four times the work of MoW, keeping the MoW level of commercial work polish, for free. I just don't think that's going to happen. I don't see any such huge project being able to start up at this point in NWN2's life.

Incidentally I have a cleric companion that worships the ascended Bhaalspawn (eg my favorite BG2 pc) in my NWN2 campaign.

Tiberius209 said...


A prequel is a path I hadn't considered. It does lead to restrictions on what can be done with certain characters, but if done right it could be interesting.


The Ultima series was one of the few non-D&D games I actually got into. I still remember the adrenaline rush of running away from the Shadowlords in U5 (my personal favorite).

As for the Black Hound, I didn't remember it being overtly BG, and Starwars clarified with much greater detail than I remembered.


I admit the thought of doing a "BG-style project" in NWN2 gets me a bit excited... but then my memories of the development on TMGS dampen that down a bit. As you well know, it's a truly dizzying amount of work. That said, it would be great if a team could be assembled...


You are absolutely correct about Chapters 2 and 3 of BGII being the meat of the game. I, too, often lose interest during subsequent play-throughs after I leave Athkatla.


You are unfortunately right. All of these big projects lose steam so long as they are staffed entirely by volunteers. You need at least a core of paid full-timers to see it pushed through to the end.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for clarifying StarWars

Nemorem that Prequel idea is pretty sweet. To bad Atari owns the rights to all that.

Tiberius I played all the Gold Box games back in day on a IMB 486 I believe...those were great! I remember skipping school because I decided it was cooler to play Ultima 5(good choice)(I pretended I was sick)

There should have been a game like Ultima but with new graphics and an engine in a isometric view, medieval settings with mix of Fantasy but not to much, maybe something like Song of Ice and Fire.
Of course I don't know any investors that would think that would sell when games like COD4 sell millions.


Jclef said...

I wouldn't want to get into anything large again myself. Too much "real" work these days! :P

How about a small community sandbox adventure? An Overland map that connects small interior dungeons. No pressure, no deadlines, just an outlet.

Idk - maybe I should shut up...

Starwars said...

The Ultimas (perhaps VII in particular) are still crazy to me because really... What game has achieved the same level of immersion via the gameworld being alive around you? And that was back in the early 90s.

Videogame devs today tend to get more recognition but there are soooo many great and ambitious games from the 80s and 90s that are overlooked. I wish there was more recognition of history (short though it is) in gaming. Not that I think most people would handle those old games nowadays with their UIs and difficulty, but again... Some of the games really did things that games today struggle to accomplish.

Anonymous said...

The Baldur's Gate series is also the golden example of an RPG for me (though I discovered Final Fantasy 7 and 9 last year and ended up loving them almost as much, which was a pleasant surprise, though they're extremely different sorts of games in most regards). I also enjoyed Oblivion despite the preconceived ideas I had developed against it, just because there's so much to do and so many places to go.

I still play Baldur's Gate at least twice a year because the modding scene has been so active that there's always something new to experience. The mod that changes the BG1 engine to the BG2 one is a must have, and there are some phenomenal NPC modules. I heard someone was trying to make a short Baldur's Gate III type module, but I haven't checked on its development for a while . . .

I'm one of those people who don't care much about graphics (I actually love isometric projection when it's detailed enough) and I wish that so-called RPG's coming out would focus more on story, characters and combat strategy rather than the "cool" factor.