Baldur’s Gate III: Partying Like It’s 1998

By Bob Case Posted Saturday Jul 20, 2019

Filed under: Video Games 77 comments

I will now present to you an extremely abridged history of PC role-playing games:

Once upon a time, there was tabletop role playing, and it’s most famous example, Dungeons and Dragons. The hobby grew out of the tabletop wargaming hobby. In these early days, there was no conventional wisdom yet about what a tabletop RPG should be, and the genre took off into a dozen different disparate directions. Some faded away, while others became mini-traditions of their own.

In such an environment, trying to guess what a critical mass of potential customers actually want is partly an exercise in guesswork, and partly an exercise in trial and error. TSR (it’s publisher) put D&D through a refinement process, resulting in several different versions of the game. I won’t go into this in too much detail, partly because I don’t really know it. But the first “edition wars” sprung up over these different versions of tabletop roleplaying’s flagship franchaise.

When you're rolling your stats, this is the screen you'll see for a split second before you hit 'reroll' again one too many times.
When you're rolling your stats, this is the screen you'll see for a split second before you hit 'reroll' again one too many times.

Looking back now, I see this as an iterative process. TSR (or later, Wizards of the Coast) would put out a new version, wait for the community’s opinion to coalesce enough that you can locate a center, then start working on the next version. This process, while not exactly democratic, was at least democracy-adjacent. The community and the developers worked together as well as they could manage to collectively wrangle into the light what exactly it was we all wanted this thing of ours to be.

Eventually, this process made its way onto the PC. I’m actually just barely old enough to remember Pools of Radiance, which I played somewhere around age ten or eleven, though I don’t believe I ever finished it, or even managed to puzzle out how exactly THAC0 worked. It didn’t hold my interest – it was too weird, rough, and difficult to play. It couldn’t hold my interest as well as, say, the Final Fantasy series, which was just getting started at the time.

So I didn’t play the first Baldur’s Gate when in was released in 1998. In fact, I didn’t play either game in the series until sometime in the mid-2000s (I don’t remember exactly when). There’s a sort of swap meet/outlet mall in Los Angeles called the Slauson Super Mall where I happened across used copies of both the Fallout and Baldur’s Gate series. Most likely it’s the best ten dollars I ever spent.

The reason I include all this backstory is as context for my attempt to puzzle out what it was then-rookie developer Bioware was trying to do with the game. Nowadays (largely thanks to Bioware itself) people have a relatively clear and developed idea of what a PC RPG should look like, but back then the genre was a somewhat uncomfortable adjunct to the tabletop experience.

The titular city. A little strange seeing it all at once, or at least it is for me.
The titular city. A little strange seeing it all at once, or at least it is for me.

The basic problem is that a computer is no substitute for a live DM. Tabletop roleplaying is a tricky balance or freedom and restriction, requiring multiple snap subjective judgments every time a player decides they want to try and bluff the guards, create a molotov cocktail out of a whiskey bottle, or whatever shenanigans they inevitably get up to.

On the other hand, a computer has certain advantages over a live DM. Dice rolls and their attendant calculations, for example, can be done in a flash, greatly speeding up combat. Artists and builders can create dozens of maps and mini-quests – never again will the DM have to tell the party they can’t go to Blackrock Castle because he hasn’t made maps for it yet. Best of all, it doesn’t require anyone to herd 3-8 cats into the same house at the same time, which is possibly the single most difficult thing about the traditional tabletop experience.

From the opening cinematic of Beamdog's remake. I kind of miss the old clunky proto-CGI they had in the original.
From the opening cinematic of Beamdog's remake. I kind of miss the old clunky proto-CGI they had in the original.

Given all this, I’m going to try and put myself in the headspace of Bioware circa 1996 or so. They want to make a PC RPG, so they want to make a game that takes the most advantage of the medium’s strengths while trying to minimize or maneuver around its weaknesses. So they made a game that:

  • Was combat-heavy: An encounter that might take an hour to resolve in a tabletop setting might take just a few minutes on a PC. Dungeons and Dragons had developed a battle-tested rhythm of fight-breather-fight again, and keeping that rhythm in a new environment meant adding more fights.
  • Was real-time with pause: I suspect this was partly a reaction to the popularity of RTS games at the time. The verdict is mixed to this day on how well this type of gameplay has aged.
  • Was deliberately Dungeons and Dragons: It’s set in the Forgotten Realms setting so much that both Drizzt and Elminster show up. Excepting the switch to real-time with pause, it imported the ruleset of the time wholesale. It even (miraculously) manages to import the hardscrabble vibe of a low-level D&D campaign.
  • Provided players with as much freedom as common sense allowed: The game does not railroad. It points you towards the next point in the story but expects and even wants you to get distracted along the way. The slow pace of leveling (see ‘low-level campaign’, above) facilitates this, as it’s forgiving towards doing things out of order.
  • Had a minimalistic story: The game’s “main quest,” so to speak, is not the focus of the gameplay but more like a set of checkpoints. It deliberately avoids interfering with the player’s independence.
  • Started to focus on companions: The companions of the original game aren’t quite as memorable as some of the standouts of later Bioware, but they’re more memorable by far than anyone in a PC RPG before the Infinity Engine era. I see this as an attempt by the developers to recreate some of the camaraderie and variety of a tabletop gaming session.
  • Focused on worldbuilding and ambiance: The hand-painted backgrounds are gorgeous and rightly praised, but I’ve also always thought that the sound design in these games were excellent, from the barks to the ambient sounds of wind/surf/nature.

Given the complexity of the task, I’d rate their success as admirable. I recently replayed the whole seriesAlbeit in its “Enhanced Edition” form, sparing me some technical and UI headaches., and was surprised at how well the session-to-session experience of the game held up.

Of course, some things hold up better than others, and we’ll get into more specifics once I actually get into my playthrough, which starts next entry.

 

 

Footnotes:

[1] Albeit in its “Enhanced Edition” form, sparing me some technical and UI headaches.



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77 thoughts on “Baldur’s Gate III: Partying Like It’s 1998

  1. djw says:

    Reroll spam regret…

    I relate so much to that.

    1. djw says:

      Really looking forward to this series, btw.

    2. sheer_falacy says:

      So glad that computer RPGs fairly quickly moved to point buy systems. Rolling for stats is awful for a lot of different reasons, but at least in Pen and Paper it can be funny.

      1. Dev Null says:

        I always found it mostly horrible in pnp as well, with the exception of games with throw-away one-night characters.

        The worst thing about it, by the way, is not that you can roll well or badly. The worst thing is rolling a character with 6 11’s. Gives you nothing to work with.

      2. Asdasd says:

        Awful yes, bad design yes, but so, so compelling.

      3. Zaxares says:

        It can create memorable characters, I agree. But I find that point buy systems do away with a lot of the player jealousy that tends to crop up when Bob rolls three 18’s and two 16’s and Tom’s stuck with a highest stat of 14. XD It might not matter if your campaign focuses primarily on roleplaying (and thus low stats can actually be a BOON because they make your character noteworthy in some way), but the mixed RP+combat campaigns that I personally favoured meant that it was better for me in the long run to start everybody off on a level playing field.

      4. One too many reroll regret, oh how many times.
        I actually dislike the point buy system. I’d like one that did with rolls. But not like BG, certainly. It would be one way I read it’s done in P&P: you’d get two chances to reroll, you would roll at least two more sets of die (assuming six ability scores) and pick the six you want out of them, then assign them. There wouldn’t be a save this set of rolls. You make the first roll then you have to decide upon keeping it or rerolling with the risk the new roll is worse. I believe I found a CRPG that did that but I don’t remember, it was a long time ago and I think it was a demo.

        1. Joshua says:

          We do something a little similar. Roll 4d6, drop the lowest, 6 times. That’s an array. Now do it a second time, and pick which array you want to use. In theory, an array that had an overall higher total but all above average stats might be less attractive than one that had a lower total, but greater extremes.

          1. Legofed3 says:

            Actually, there’s an easy way to get randomly generated arrays with fixed total (sum of scores) and predefined bounds (i.e., minimum and maximum scores).
            The trick is to roll scores and sum and subtract them in such a way that the overall effect is nil.
            For example, you could roll 5 d6s, and note the results as A, B, C, D and E. Then you could compute the resulting actual ability scores as follows:
            12 + A
            13 – A + B
            12 – B + C
            13 – C + D
            12 – D + E
            13 – E
            The result is always a total score of 76, bounded between 18 and 7 (before e.g. racial adjustments), since every rolled score is added and subtracted from the base scores exactly once.

            You can use smaller (d4s) or bigger (d8s) dices for larger variance and bounds (16-9 and 20-5, respectively), or even change the base scores for to achieve different totals or maximum/minimum.
            For example, I use 13-14 rather than 12-13, with d4s for variance, for an 81-point, 17-10 array compatible with 13th Age’s “heroic array.”

  2. MildlyUnapologeticPedant says:

    It’s its, not it’s.

    1. Tuck says:

      If you’re talking about the post title, then it is definitely it’s, as it’s shortened from “it is”.

      1. Ivan says:

        Probably referring to “TSR (it’s publisher)”.

      2. Dan Efran says:

        “it’s most famous example”

  3. Scampi says:

    I still believe the companions in Baldur’s Gate to be the most relatable at least in my personal Bioware history. They had their own ideas about how the party should run, character flaws that were expressed not only in dialogue but gameplay terms as well (Who wasn’t e.g. annoyed by Khalid’s cowardice and mental weakness (translate: bad will saving throw) yet put up with him because Jaheira was too darn useful?), if a quest was attached to them they became pushy if you strayed too far from completing it or it took you too long to get to the quest and finally quit the party if you didn’t complete their character quests or strayed too far from their moral alignment etc. They also made comments about being happy or not with your leadership and if you put someone else in charge, I believe their dialogue changed.
    The most important part about this may be: I believe they made their present felt in a meaningful way, a feat not accomplished by lots of their successors imho.

    Best of all, it doesn’t require anyone to herd 3-8 cats into the same house at the same time, which is possibly the single most difficult thing about the traditional tabletop experience.

    Sadly, this is bitter truth. I have no idea how (and if) tabletop gaming even still exists, considering my issues with finding people who ever have time at hand at all.

    1. djw says:

      I’d take herding cats over the combination of really horrid pathing, traps, and kobold comando’s in Firewine Ruins.

      1. Scampi says:

        So do I, but the only cats I can manage to herd are our literal housecats-and they can be quite taxing at times. They are also the reason for at least some of my difficulties due to friends’ allergies etc.

    2. Amstrad says:

      Sadly, this is bitter truth. I have no idea how (and if) tabletop gaming even still exists, considering my issues with finding people who ever have time at hand at all

      After my last in-person group lost cohesion I’ve found that a reasonable simulacrum of the tabletop experience can be found via the use of tools like Roll20. It’s a bit of a chore finding a group of like-minded individuals to play with if your real world friends are still too busy to play, but I’ve fished through a variety of Discord servers to settle with my current group.

      1. Scampi says:

        I tried looking into Roll20, but doesn’t it support only a limited numer of rule sets (none of which I’m acquainted with sufficiently)? Can it be used to account for other systems?

        1. Amstrad says:

          There are a ton of rule sets built in now, but if you want you can just ignore all that and just use it as a way to have a map with player/enemy tokens and a shared chat window with dice rolling. The built in rule sets are just a convenience thing (plus if you’re gifted at a bit of scripting you can always build the tools for your favorite rule set yourself)

          Edit: Here’s the up to date list of all the pre-built character sheets available
          https://wiki.roll20.net/Character_Sheet_Index

        2. Philadelphus says:

          The one time I’ve used it we used an entirely home-brew system, and it worked fine. YMMV, of course.

    3. Steve C says:

      Who didn’t put up with the annoying Khalid because Jaheira was too darn useful?

      Me! Me! Raises hand. I couldn’t stand Khalid, but loved Jaheira. So I always had Jaheira immediately turn around and murder Khalid– chunky death style. No complaints after that.

      1. Scampi says:

        I have to admit I had a really fun experience when it came to my 1st playthrough, when I encountered the final battle with a fully prepared party (or so I assumed), and then everything went sideways in ways I don’t remember anymore (the only things I remember is that my casters botched several spells for some reason, while most of the fight I fought with only half a party due to bad morale): my party ran into a figurative meat grinder and almost everyone died. I won with only 2 survivors-my main (squishy Wizard) and Khalid, who had spent most of the fight in a panic, running around like a headless chicken while the others kept the baddies at bay.
        Late in the fight, he came to his senses and helped my main overcoming Sarevok.

        It became even more hilarious when I ported the main to BG II and found out Khalid had in canon died while Jaheira lived-she had been practically curbstomped in the final fight…the same of course applied to Imoen…

      2. djw says:

        I kept them both on early playthroughs. However, once I learned where to go to get other clerics I didn’t even bother to recruit them. Branwen, Yeslick, Viconia, and Quayle are all better, and Tiax at least rules. Jaheira is just annoying and bossy.

        1. Gautsu says:

          So, like my wife. Which is probably why I romance her

          1. djw says:

            Khalid escaped through the sweet embrace of death…

      3. Kavonde says:

        So, there’s an official novelization of Baldur’s Gate. I’ve still got a copy… somewhere. Always planned on doing some sort of review of it. It is the most awful garbage ever committed to paper. It’s been years, and I can’t fully remember all of the ways in which it was absolutely, revolutionarily terrible… but one decision the author made early on was for Khalid to be murdered by a green slime so the protagonist could hook up with Jaheira.

        Also, Minsc shows up for, like, a sentence, and never joins the party.

        It’s a fascinatingly awful text.

    4. houser2112 says:

      “Who wasn’t e.g. annoyed by Khalid’s cowardice and mental weakness (translate: bad will saving throw) yet put up with him because Jaheira was too darn useful?”

      To be pedantic, AD&D 2nd Edition (the ruleset that Baldur’s Gate used) did not have the concept of a will saving throw (that came in 3rd Edition). Characters who were particularly susceptible to mind affecting spells had a Magical Defense Adjustment penalty to saves versus “Spell”, which didn’t kick in until your Wisdom got down to a 7.

      I remember Khalid to be very annoying, but I don’t remember him being particularly bad at saving throws. Did they really give him such crappy Wisdom?

      1. Supah Ewok says:

        Sure they did, but I don’t think it was Khalid who had it. I think Khalid had an artificially low morale adjustment that would cause a chance for him to panic and lose player control when he took hits.

        1. Hector says:

          Ironically (Irenucally?) I lived Khalid and disliked Jaheira. Now I like them both though. Khalid isn’t obviously exceptional but he’s a very well-rounded character, and I found his flaws endearing.

          1. djw says:

            Khalid has one of the highest constitution stats in the game (highest for good party NPC for sure) and you can fix his fear problems with a spell.

    5. Matthew Downie says:

      One of my vague unreliable memories of BG is that Misc got furious at me for not pursuing his quest and left the group. I hadn’t pursued it because I hadn’t known how. (I think it’s was a thing where you had to exit the correct side of a particular map to unlock a new region on the world map.)

      So I reloaded my previous save, and then had to figure out a way to get to that quest without resting. It made the whole thing a lot more strategic.

  4. Scampi says:

    In these early days, there was no conventional wisdom yet about what a tabletop RPG should be, and the genre took off into a dozen different disparate directions.

    Yet? I doubt this kind of consent exists even today, considering there is no authoritative institution to hand down judgement on this issue. We may be able to make an unconcluded list of what TTRPGs can or could be, but I don’t think we can really agree on this kind of normative claim.

    1. Asdasd says:

      One glance at the comments for a typical Chainmail Bikini reposting would confirm, with people variously taking sides with the (intentionally exaggerated) philosophies of each character.

    2. Supah Ewok says:

      Today’s debates over how to make a tabletop game fun are nothing compared to the wild guessing that took place in the 70s with the birth of the medium. Basic D&D up through 2e AD&D has a whole lotta cruft to it that by common convention today doesn’t show up in modern rules, except in the intentionally retro throwback games that even label themselves “old school”.

  5. Tuck says:

    Started to focus on companions: The companions of the original game aren’t quite as memorable as some of the standouts of later Bioware, but they’re more memorable by far than anyone in a PC RPG before the Infinity Engine era.

    Beg to differ. Shamino, Iolo and Dupre are far more memorable to me than any companion from a Bioware game, and they appear as companions in six games prior to 1998. In fact the only character I can remember from Baldur’s Gate is Boo…the hamster?

    1. Mistwraithe says:

      Ultima was amazing. More than anything else that series defined my gaming during my childhood.

      That said, surely if you remember Boo then you remember Minsc!

      1. djw says:

        Ultima was definitely a defining game in my teen years as well. But I found that the “morality” system aged fairly poorly for me, and the whole thing ended terribly with Ultima IX. My memories of Baldur’s Gate are much fonder.

      2. Tuck says:

        Was Minsc the tattooed barbarian? Obviously, I don’t remember. :P

        I think part of what made Ultima’s characters so memorable is that (from 5 onwards at least) there were very little numbers involved, so picking your companions became more about who you liked as a character and less about who had the best stats and abilities.

        1. Kavonde says:

          The idea of someone only remembering Minsc as “that tattooed barbarian” hurts me at least as much as the Avatar forgetting what a paladin was in Ultima X.

    2. Infinitron says:

      Yeah, the latter Ultima games had more extensive companion writing than Baldur’s Gate. It didn’t take long for BioWare to surpass them though.

  6. Lino says:

    I’ve always liked your writing style and analysis, so I’m really looking forward to this.

    Oh, by the way, Typolice:

    it’s most famous example

    Should be “its” instead of “it’s”.

  7. samuel222 says:

    “It’s” means “it is”. “Its” is the possessive form (“Its history”). It was used incorrect multiple times, so I’m suspecting it was not a typo.

  8. Tonich says:

    Dice rolls and their attendant calculations, for example, can be done in a flash, greatly speeding up combat.

    Actually, it’s what I dislike about DnD-based videogames the most. It skips that moment of anticipaton and praying to the Dice Gods “Please, oh please, roll at least 11!”

    1. King Marth says:

      What’s more, dice-based calculations have intentionally chunky probability distribution (good ol’ critical hits and misses) in order to make each individual roll exciting. Blazing through half a dozen rolls without noticing them could lead to wildly different outcomes with the same inputs, which is just frustrating.

      If you have a computer doing the math for you, you can build way better systems than d20.

      1. Tonich says:

        Exactly! And if you’re unfamiliar with the system, automated rolls may become extremely confusing. When I played my first DnD-based games (Neverwinter Nights) I’d never even heard of tabletop gaming (even now, it’s still a pretty rare hobby in my homeland). So I just couldn’t figure out why my characted was visually swinging his weapon at enemies but could hardly hit them. I thought maybe the game was broken… :)
        Also, in the system I used to play (it was an original one devised by our DM, but loosely based on DnD) we used 2d6 for attack and defense rolls, and I think I prefer it this way. Gives you a much steeper probability spread.

  9. Ebass says:

    Though I hardly have played games for the last 5 years or so (why am I here? Well I still enjoy when Shamus talk about games I have played, I.e most big pc titles pre 2014 or so)

    I played BG2 maybe 2012, it still held up very well) I think maybe what’s so strange about it was that it didn’t really try to explain the d&d systems at all. When I first played it through at around 13 years old I managed to sort of brute force through it without the faintest idea of what a will save, a DC, or attack rolls really were

    1. Asdasd says:

      All the infinity engine games came boxed with deliciously dense and characterful manuals. They made learning the convolutions and cruft of 2nd edition AD&D much more interesting than my textbooks did the maths I was learning at the time, but yes, they were the only explanation of the rules the game saw fit to provide.

      1. Supah Ewok says:

        They also had typos or flat out mistakes, including 2e mechanics that weren’t actually in the videogame.

        Ah, the joys of yesteryear.

  10. John says:

    Nowadays (largely thanks to Bioware itself) people have a relatively clear and developed idea of what a PC RPG should look like, but back then the genre was a somewhat uncomfortable adjunct to the tabletop experience.

    That’s debatable. By 1998, CRPGs had been around for nearly two decades. There were (or had been) some pretty well-established trends in the genre by that point. Between 1980 and 2000, if you were to pick a CRPG completely at random, the odds were pretty good that it’d be either strongly Ultima-influenced, strongly Wizardry-influenced, or, just possibly, strongly Gold Box-influenced. Wizardry-descended RPGs in particular were huge, including such popular series as The Bard’s Tale, Might & Magic and even, I’d argue, real-time series like Dungeon Master, Eye of the Beholder, and Lands of Lore. (Those last two series, incidentally, were from Westwood Studios, also home of the first really popular RTS games.) So, really, I think that it’s fair to say that people in fact had a better idea of what a CRPG looked like in the pre-Baldur’s Gate era than they do now, an age when “RPG elements” are everywhere and some have even gone so far as to claim that Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is secretly an RPG.

    1. Supah Ewok says:

      Yeah, I think the main reason that for the 00’s and part of the 10’s that Bioware defined the CRPG wasn’t necessarily due to their work codifying the genre so much as for a period of about 12 years they were the only high profile CRPG developer still in business. Depending on how willing you are to claim Bethesda as a CRPG developer in that time period.

    2. Gwydden says:

      While true, I think the late 90s were hugely transformative for WRPGs, due to not only the Baldur’s Gate series but also Black Isle games — the Fallout titles and Planescape: Torment in particular. That’s where you get modern story-driven RPGs.

      As for people having a more solid definition of CRPG back in the day, it seems to me players today have their own figured out, which happens to include games like Odyssey. Nothing secret about its alleged RPG status, by the way. Generally, old-timers are the only ones who are fussy about nomenclature. “Roleplaying game” is such a vague descriptor, but no more so than strategy, simulation, survival, action, adventure, and so on. That’s what subgenres are for. I confess people’s investment in the proper definition of RPG over all those other categories mystifies me somewhat.

      It occurs to me that “real RPG” means little beyond “the sort of RPG I like,” and the reason some are upset is that they can no longer trust on the label to match their tastes. I know very well there are RPG subgenres I don’t care for — dungeon crawlers, sandboxes, JRPGs — but whether they qualify as RPGs or not is immaterial. A rose by any other name would smell much the same. I don’t like MOBAs or CCGs; that doesn’t mean they’re not strategy games. I could get uppity about it and condemn their rising popularity, but that sounds tiresome.

      1. John says:

        I’m not making any claims about genre definitions. I could. I want to. But it is, as you say, futile. No, all I’m saying is that prior to the late 90s, if someone asked you what a CRPG was you could point to the three series I mentioned and have covered almost the entire genre. Contrary to Bob’s claim, what was and what was not a CRPG was, as a strictly practical matter, fairly well settled.

        Another thing worth mentioning is that Baldur’s Gate broke the mold less than its reputation today would suggest. Real-time combat in CRPGs is as old as Dungeon Master, which was released in 1987. SSI released the first of the Gold Box games, AD&D CRPGs with famously tactical combat, in 1988. Microprose’s Darklands had isometric real-time with pause tactical combat back in 1992, six years before Baldur’s Gate was released. On a technical level, Baldur’s Gate is just a bigger, prettier, and possibly more polished iteration on what came before. If Baldur’s Gate has any genuine claim to significance it’s because it popularized NPC party members with something resembling personalities and quasi-independent thought and not because of its mechanics.

        1. Gwydden says:

          Semantic debates rarely result in anything, but I’d still be interested in your definition of RPG. Not because I want to argue for or against it, but because I like to know where everybody stands and make sure I’m not making a strawman of their position.

          While my knowledge of RPGs before the late 90s is entirely theoretical (the CRPG Book is a fascinating read I’d recommend), I agree that Baldur’s Gate wasn’t that revolutionary. That merit belongs more properly to Fallout for mechanics and Planescape: Torment for the narrative focus. Even the companions is something that only properly developed in BG2 after P:T had already done it.

          Perhaps the real accomplishment of BG is in how its popularity helped launch Bioware as an RPG company, making the series ultimately responsible for their influence on the genre up to now. Sort of like The Lord of the Rings, a book that is often and erroneously claimed to have started the fantasy genre because of its unprecedented impact and success.

          1. John says:

            I don’t have an explicit definition. Genre definitions are fluid anyway. But, since you asked, I’d say that Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey it isn’t properly an RPG because (1) the combat is way too twitch-based and (2) it takes more than a couple of RPG elements to make something an RPG. Odyssey is clearly a third-person action game from a series of third-person action games that, in this latest iteration, just happens to include a leveling system on top of the series’ traditional mechanics. In other words, I think that Oddysey, considered as a whole, is sufficiently unlike most games commonly considered RPGs that it doesn’t qualify.

            Then again, I recognize that the set of games commonly considered RPGs has changed over the years. There was a time when The Witcher 3 wouldn’t have been considered an RPG, but that time has clearly passed.

  11. Zaxares says:

    Soooo, who else instinctively yelled “DON’T REROLL! That’s an AWESOME number of stats!” at their screen when Bob showed his first screenshot? ;)

    I also agree that the EE version’s comic-style cinematics fall short of the atmosphere created by the original chunky CGI. (This is especially true of the Chapter 4 intro cutscene, as well as the game’s outro cinematic.) Luckily, there’s mods out there that can restore them for you!

    On a related note, I’ve actually spoken to people before who told me that games like Baldur’s Gate were actually their introduction to the D&D system. I wonder what’s the ratio of players who came from a tabletop background vs those who got introduced to tabletop as a result of CRPGs.

  12. Chad Miller says:

    Was real-time with pause: I suspect this was partly a reaction to the popularity of RTS games at the time. The verdict is mixed to this day on how well this type of gameplay has aged.

    Man. I’m not saying you’re wrong, but my exact problem with this type of mechanical system is “it feels like the least fun parts of an RTS.” My admittedly not-rigorously-researched experience is that the isometric WRPG genre has been understandably moving away from this (Wasteland 2, the Shadowrun Returns trilogy, Torment: Tides of Numenera, and Divinity: Original Sin II are all straight turn-based and Pillars of Eternity II added it as an option).

  13. baud says:

    Was real-time with pause: I suspect this was partly a reaction to the popularity of RTS games at the time.

    I heard that Bioware wanted/was developing a RTS around the same time as BG, so they might have wanted to build an engine that could be used by both games.

    1. John says:

      Baldur’s Gate was also intended (at least originally) as a multiplayer experience. Multiplayer is easier and more natural in real time.

  14. Joshua says:

    I must say, I’m really looking forward to this series, as I’m very curious to see how BG3 will turn out (plus mildly curious about how the various Enhanced Edition BG-era games coming to the Switch will turn out, with not high hopes).

    However, I think there’s a major flaw of analysis right off the bat. As someone above posted, there was *already* a ton of CRPGs at that point, from multiple consoles and computers. As far as tabletop-based games, D&D probably had at least 20-30* computer games out at that point, most if not all by SSI. So by the point of Baldur’s Gate, the developers were just trying to continually improve the process and utilize advanced computer technology, not figure it out from scratch.

    THAC0 was not a complicated system, it’s just based off of an unintuitive and weird mechanic that has characters start with a 10 Armor Class at the worst, and equip armor, magic, and have high dexterity which subtracted AC until characters reached the theoretical “best” AC of -10. So, you subtracted the target’s AC from character’s THAC0 to figure out the roll you needed to hit. A person with a 15 THAC0 attacking a target with a 5 AC would thus need a 10 or higher on a d20 to hit. Conversely, attacking something with a -4 AC would require a 19 (15 -(-4)) or higher to hit. It just gets weird when you start applying combat bonuses, because a +1 sword or +1 Bless spell actually subtract from your THAC0 despite their + nature, same with +1 Armor.

    3rd Edition just took the same basic logic and made it a lot more intuitive by flipping AC around to make positive better. So, instead of 10 (worst) to -10 (best), you had 10 (worst) to 30 (best) for the equivalent concept, except there wasn’t a cap anymore (a lot of things could go above 30, and a few horribly immobile things had ACs worse than 10). A THAC0 of 15 would thus translate into a solid +5 to Hit, which makes it much easier to combine with +1 bonuses like above. It’s so much easier to do math on the spot that involves adding rather than subtracting, anyway. One reason why I add up my damage instead of subtracting from my HP.

    Why was the original system so convoluted and unintuitive (if easy to understand, once you figured out the math)? You would have had to ask Gary Gygax, but it seems he really, really liked inventing complicated subsystems, probably from his War-game roots. The D20 system from WotC not only revamped THAC0, but reclassified a number of other systems like Thieves’ skills and skills in general to all use the same concept, which makes it easier for newbies to learn the game.

    *Off the top of my head, not even doing a search:
    Pools of Radiance
    Hillsfar
    Curse of the Azure Bonds
    Secret of the Silver Blades
    Pools of Darkness
    Gateway to the Savage Frontier
    Treasures of the Savage Frontier
    Neverwinter Nights (original)
    Heroes of the Lance
    Dragons of Flame
    Champions of Krynn
    Death Knights of Krynn
    The Dark Queen of Krynn
    Shadow Sorcerer
    Eye of the Beholder
    Eye of the Beholder 2
    Eye of the Beholder 3
    Menzoberranzan
    Strahd’s Possession
    Ravenloft 2: Stone Prophet?
    Some Al-Qadim game
    Dark Sun game (can’t remember name)
    Dark Sun game 2 (can’t remember name)
    not counting stuff like the Dragonlance war game, Dragonflight simulator, or Ravenloft Fighting Game (yes, it exists)

    *Edit, after I posted this, I searched and found the following list:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Dungeons_%26_Dragons_video_games

    1. Asdasd says:

      THAC0 really was an astonishing example of taking a simple arithmetical system and presenting it in the most unintuitive form imaginable. It deserves some kind of award. But having taken the time to learn it, I find it oddly charming. There’s a quality that cruft brings, weird and unwelcoming as it undoubtedly is. It’s a certain occult or arcane quality, leading to strange things accruing in dark corners of its systems, which if nothing else is at least appropriate to all the fantasy themeing.

      1. Liessa says:

        My problem with THAC0 in the Baldur’s Gate games was not that I couldn’t understand it (though it is counter-intuitive) but that it literally wasn’t explained anywhere. Not in-game, not in the manual (and yes, I searched through the entire thing). It’s a hugely important mechanic, yet the devs apparently just assumed that everyone playing the game would already be familiar with D&D and wouldn’t need it explained to them.

        1. Joshua says:

          Yeah, a comparable example would be if someone were to design baseball and made it so Hits were positive, but Runs were negative. Therefore, whoever had the lowest (negative) amount of runs won. Yeah, you can grasp the math, but why the hell was it designed this odd way?

    2. Kylroy says:

      The original D&D rules were based on wargaming rules, where a ship with Armor Class 1 was better than one with Armor Class 2. Granted, those ships were only present in the rules *several* generations before it was about fantasy adventurers. Plus, the whole “THAC0” thing was created for the *second* edition of the game.

      1. Boobah says:

        Pedantic nitpicking: The game usually referred to as ‘First Edition’ wasn’t the original version of Dungeons & Dragons. I have no idea when THAC0 first appeared, but I’ve spotted it in the wild as early as the first edition Dungeon Master’s Guide.

        The first edition Player’s Handbook didn’t think players needed to know things like their base to-hit numbers or, IIRC, saving throws.

    3. DeadlyDark says:

      Rather excellent video on the topic
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgoonTyjKoc

    4. Matthew Downie says:

      THAC0 wasn’t all bad. It encouraged you to calculate in advance what number you needed, so you could roll a d20 and immediately know if you hit or not. In the more intuitive 3rd edition system, you tend to roll the d20, then add various bonuses, then ask the GM if that hits. This diffuses the excitement of the roll with arithmetic.

  15. ElementalAlchemist says:

    Was real-time with pause: I suspect this was partly a reaction to the popularity of RTS games at the time.

    The Infinity engine was originally built for an RTS game. It was Interplay (BG’s publisher and later licensee of the engine for their in-house RPGs Icewind Dale I/II and Planescape: Torment) that convinced Bioware to make an RPG because they had the D&D license but no game to exploit it. The reason for RTwP was because Bioware didn’t want to scrap the engine and start again.

  16. DeadlyDark says:

    As I said previously, I prefer BG1 to BG2 and BG2ToB. I wish, more games tried to replicate that atmosphere of low-level adventuring, combined with mostly detective story

    1. zekiel says:

      I just adore BG2 but there is something about the first game that the sequel failed to recapture. That sense of being able to strike out in any direction and find something interesting… kind of like Skyrim (but with tactical combat and better characterisation)

  17. Jabberwok says:

    As someone who never played D&D growing up, I found BG’s stat system and dice rolls extremely confusing compared to Fallout’s percentage-based skills (and less confusing damage ranges). And I vastly prefer turn-based over RTWP. Fallout sort of became the CRPG gold standard for me. But then again, I did play it years before Baldur’s Gate….

  18. Agammamon says:

    Best of all, it doesn’t require anyone to herd 3-8 cats into the same house at the same time. . .

    Interestingly enough, it *does* require you to herd 5 other cats – due to the excellent companion design, each with their own agendas expressed in-game. Nowadays, outside of cutscenes, companions are just extra guns and meat shields and express little to no personality of their own. And even in the cutscenes, all they’ll do is whine, none of them having the balls to leave the company of a PC who is radically unaligned to their ethos or is obviously ignoring their needs – something all the companions in BG will do.

    One of the hallmarks of RPGs of this era is that while the story might revolve around the PC, the *gameworld* doesn’t. People have their own agendas and act on them, even (in something like Fallout) major events continue on in the background while you’re faffing about and the world can end if you don’t act quickly enough.

  19. Confanity says:

    “Artists and builders can create dozens of maps and mini-quests – never again will the DM have to tell the party they can’t go to Blackrock Castle because he hasn’t made maps for it yet.”

    Yes, now we’ve upgraded to an age when half the characters in a game hype up Blackrock Castle… and then you discover that you can’t go because you haven’t shelled out half of the original game’s cost all over again for the Blackrock DLC.

  20. Matthew Downie says:

    That map of the whole of Baldur’s Gate does look weird, if only because the narrative of Forgotten Realms says, “the greatest city on the Sword Coast, population 82,000,” while the picture makes it look about 1% as big as that.

  21. Water Rabbit says:

    I am sorry Bob, but you are too young to talk about this topic in the manner you are addressing it. Baldur’s Gate was just the latest in a long line of RPGs that had preceded it. The Gold Box series in particular had a major influence on BG. Dragonbait was (and still is, since he is in the 5e Module Tomb of Annihilation) a very memorable NPC — more memorable than Alias from that series in fact.

    I personally started with Temple of Apshai on a TRS-80 Model 1

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_of_Apshai

    1. Boobah says:

      YMMV when it comes to Dragonbait; the only thing that stood out for me was that he was a first edition paladin who wasn’t a human, but a saurial (dinosaur people, which are distinct from both lizardmen and dragonborn because reasons). I don’t remember saurials having super long lifespans, so there must be a story behind him being alive during 5th ed Forgotten Realms, but if Minsc can show up in Cryptic’s Neverwinter, set during 4th ed (itself centuries after Baldur’s Gate) I have no doubt Dragonbait can find a way.

  22. RCN says:

    Companionship is very important.

    There’s a D&D mindset that characters are expendable and anyone should be prepared to lose their characters at any time. And fine, there are people who play RPGs for that risk-free risk of sending their characters to their deaths in a variety of amusing ways. But it is the same kind of dissonance as simple save scumming… or rather, a rogue-like.

    Weaving a story with the characters and making a character death something unexpected and a chance for true narrative pathos is something I look for in my RPG sessions. Making the players actually care about their characters and EACH OTHER characters, discovering their backstories and going from that.

    This is why focusing on the playable companions worked so well for Black Isle and Bioware. And continues to do so in the gaming medium when the narrative is the focus. You need to care about the people to care about what happens to them.

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