Beamdog's Trent Oster talks about Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition

1998 was the year that a little known game developer called BioWare released Baldur's Gate for publisher Interplay. The Dungeons and Dragons-based fantasy RPG was a huge critical and sales hit. An expansion pack was released in 1999 and in 2000 BioWare and Interplay brought us the sequel, Baldur's Gate 2. An expansion for that game was released in 2001.

The games and expansions are still considered to be some of the best RPG titles of all time. Now Beamdog and its game development division Overhaul Games, have announced plans to release "enhanced editions" of all of these games later in 2012 for the PC, Mac and iPad platforms. Beamdog is founded and run by Trent Oster, who originally worked at BioWare on the Baldur's Gate titles.

Neowin got a chance to ask Oster some questions about Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition, how he feels about perhaps developing a third game in the series, how Beamdog, which offers its own game download store, is doing and more.

First, before we get to the Baldur's Gate announcement, can you give us an update on Beamdog in general? How is the company doing against such competition like Steam, Gamestop and even EA?

Beamdog is doing quite well. We'd love to be able to say it is doing awesome, but we've got a good following and our users are pretty happy with the platform. Our ability to deliver games in a ready to play package really makes the PC experience a better one. As well, our strategy for lining up exclusive titles by building them ourselves has really helped bring interest to our service.

The release of MDK2 HD for the PC and Wii last year was Beamdog's first work at its Overhaul Games division. How much did you and the team learn from revamping that BioWare game?

We learned a ton from MDK2 HD. We spent a lot of time and effort re-working all the art assets and the game engine and it was well received. We saw quite a few mentions where people remarked "this is how HD should be done". We also received a lot of feedback that people wanted new MDK2 content.

You worked on the original game at BioWare. Did you know back then when you and the team were developing it how popular and influential the final game would become?

I clearly remember the first time I was actually able to play Baldur's Gate. I pulled down a build that actually worked for longer than five minutes and was able to create a character and play through a few encounters. I remember saying to myself "Holy sh*t, this is actually pretty good". After spending months managing the 3D department and reviewing 3D models for the environment I was pretty blind about the actual game. Once we had a functional build it really impressed me. As for the success of the game, we had no idea it would be that big. We hoped for a good loyal following and decent sales, but we never anticipated that level of success.

How did the idea come about to release a revamped version of Baldur's Gate?

We started talking about what game we'd love to see a revamped version of and Baldur's Gate was #1 on our list. So I went to war on the contract front until we got the deal signed. There was some calculation about it as a title that had a large, existing fanbase and was still referenced in discussion, even 12 years after release, but mostly it was a gut call.

The original versions of the game is still available for sale at a number of download outlets. Why do you believe there is an audience for a revamped version of the original game?

I think there is an audience for a revamped version of the game because it's a bloody great game. When you remove all the talking heads bullcrap and "cinematic storytelling" very few games can hold a candle to Baldur's Gate in the storytelling department. As well, no other game has the same great tactical adventure feel quite like the Baldur's Gate games. These games are great to play over and over as you try new tactics to overcome challenges in new ways. As well, with new platforms like iPad, the potential audience for such a great game is huge. When I started using my iPad, the first thought in my head was, "Baldur's Gate would be awesome on this". I ran into Dave Chan (another ex-Bioware guy) and his first comment about the iPad was the same. For the next few months after the iPad went on sale I had a number of people mention how great BG would be on the iPad. They were all correct. I recently had a vacation and was playing Baldur's Gate on my iPad on the beach and it was awesome.

What can you tell us at this time about the graphical improvements that Overhaul Games has planned for the Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition?

The first major improvement is going to be the user interface. The old Baldur's Gate interface was created around 640x480 resolution. Even with BG2 the user interface still had elements which were locked to 640x480. We are going in and re-writing the UI system to work for multiple larger resolutions and we are using the iPad 3 (at 2048x1536) as one of our target resolutions so the new UI is going to look amazing. One of our other major improvements was to convert the graphics completely over to OpenGL. By using the hardware present in all devices, we can run BG at higher resolutions and run it faster and smoother that it ever could before.

Our third major enhancement is the addition of the ability to zoom in and out dynamically during gameplay. Zooming out allows the player to be more tactical in the positioning of their party. Zooming in allows the player to search the environment in detail and have greater precision with actions. With regards to the background art and character art, we are limited in what we can do from a purely graphical context as the original art assets were lost. Since we have no 3D models or textures from the original games to go from we have to make the best of what is available.

We are currently researching a few upscaling algorithms to try and improve the quality of the existing assets. We are still experimenting with the game and testing out various ideas on how we can further improve the existing content, but we also took the feedback from MDK2 HD to heart and are focusing our content creation efforts on creating new content, not just prettying up content you have already played through.

What plans, if any, do you have to add any content to the game for this new edition in terms of new adventures, characters and gameplay?

We have plans within plans in this area. So far we have announced one new potential party member. He comes with a class which is new to Baldur's Gate and a story-based adventure which integrates into the existing Baldur's Gate story. We've also announced a new adventure which exists outside the Bhaalspawn story and should be a lot of fun to play.

What other changes and improvements can we expect to see in Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition?

Our vision around BGEE has a few rules and a few goals. 1. Don't break the fun. 2. Fix what is broken. Multiplayer and UI are top of that list. 3. Create the best version of Baldur's Gate possible. Create new content for the game and make it easier for the community to create and distribute content. You can expect to see new content, some character additions and some new classes / kits that you have never seen before.

Is it safe to say that the game will be released on the PC as the lead platform?

Yes, the PC is the lead platform. We work day in and day out on the PC, so we build the content and test the content on the PC first which really keeps it front and center through our development. The other platforms are built and tested frequently, but by working on the PC it really gets the majority of our attention.

What other platforms are being targeted for the Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition?

So far we've announced three platforms, The PC, the iPad (1,2 and 3) and Mac OSX. We're looking into other platforms, but at his point those are the three we've publicly committed to.

Could we see Overhaul Games work on an all new game in the Baldur's Gate series at some point?

We've mentioned our desire to work on a Baldur's Gate 3 publicly a few times now and we're aggressively pursuing the concept. In reality, the best way to make a BG3 happen for us is to make the Enhanced Editions great games and then hope they sell well.

Let's talk about the early response to this announcement. The teaser site for the game was hit by so much traffic it had to shut down. How does that make you feel that there is a ton of interest from fans about this project?

We knew the interest was going to be large, but we didn't think it would cause our server provider to flag the traffic as a denial of service attack. The traffic was so sudden and so massive that they assumed a DDOS attack was underway. It took us hours to get everything back up and even then we couldn't cope with the load. The massive outpouring of interest was well received validation for our love of a 12 year old game series and our belief it still resonates with fans.

Finally is there anything else you want to say about Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition and Beamdog and Overhaul Games in general?

I'd just like to say how happy we are to be working on the Baldur's Gate (again) and how excited we are to get the game out there for the players. We're a small independent team and we love interacting with other people who love BG. We're updating our website at frequently, so please drop by for news and updates. I'm also becoming a bit of a twitter junkie lately, so if you want a mix of BG:EE news and a smattering of inane commentary, follow me on twitter @TrentOster

Images via Beamdog

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