We continue the story of Baldur's Gate from pages 188 of Retro Gamer, based on conversations with the people who created this iconic RPG. Despite the cancellation of the Baldur's Gate port on the PlayStation, Interplay hasn't abandoned the idea of a console version of the game. The rights to the franchise were owned by the publisher, and BioWare itself was occupied by Neverwinter Nights. The publisher and its own developer, Black Isle, felt they were lagging behind in terms of console games.
“Selling console games during this period was a big part of the business,” explains Chris Avellone, “and the fact that Interplay and Black Isle did not have games on consoles was a downside to the business. This is why a revamped version of the first Baldur's Gate, subtitled Dark Alliance, has begun for the PS2.
An exact repetition of Baldur's Gate's ideas might have worked, but Interplay decided that, in terms of better sales, it should focus on combat, exploration and linear gameplay.
“I was worried that we used the name Baldur's Gate to promote it, because it was a deep role-playing game where everything was about the connection between the plot and the city. However, for me, Dark Alliance has always been an ordinary action RPG with a minimum amount of dialogue, ”continues Chris Avellone.
To develop the new title, Interplay has contracted Washington-based Snowblind Studios with access to its great engine. Avellone, who worked with this studio during development, continues:
“Like BioWare, they were an independent studio. I liked their director, lead programmer and everyone I met there. They were able to develop an engine and technology that we could all rely on together. ”
Snowblind engine combined isometric and free camera. This provided many new possibilities.
Unfortunately, for many fans of Baldur's Gate, the story was the deciding factor. As Chris explains, they tried to get Black Isle wherever they could afford it [in general, three studios were involved in the development - WorldOfTopics]. Most of Avellone and Black Isle did the storytelling.
Dark Alliance - talked about three adventurers, each with unique abilities and weaknesses. Van is an archer who knows how to kill enemies with his magic arrows, but he is weaker in hand-to-hand combat. Adrianna is an elven sorceress with the ability to use devastating magical attacks, and Cromlech is a dwarf who prefers an ax or a sword. Eldrit the Betrayer, commander of the Coast, has gathered her forces to attack Baldur's Gate. She failed to break the city, and while dying she cursed the inhabitants. Taking control of one of the characters, the player must prevent the Eldrit's army from resurrecting, and save the city from the Dark Alliance. The story develops pretty quickly, throwing us from one location to another.
The gameplay has been optimized to make it fairly easy to progress. A special potion allows the player to travel back to Elfsong's tavern, where he can sell items and weapons, collect new equipment, and learn about potential new missions.
Each location is a linear journey from one point to another, where you kill everyone in your path from time to time while saving. The simplicity of the game has nevertheless hit the mark with consoles more focused on intense and fast action games.
“The story wasn’t well written,” complains Chris, “too much was dumped on the player's head at the end of the game. But it could have been worse. The Dark Alliance taught me to finish my job before someone opens their mouth and tells me to redo everything. I remember writing an excerpt from the plot and was happy with the work, and then all of a sudden the head of the studio and other Interplay staff came up with some silly ideas that they thought would be better for the plot.
In the case of Dark Alliance, there is no doubt that less is more. Its leveling, frequent battles and looting easily kept the attention of the players. I thought there were enough levels so that every new area you encountered was exciting and the player didn't run out of interest. ”
The success of the Dark Alliance on the PlayStation 2 led to subsequent releases on the Xbox and GameCube. While they weren't much different, Microsoft's console has slightly improved the visuals. And the Game Cube went the other way - three years later a port appeared from it to the Game Boy Advance, which offered a significantly different experience. We removed unnecessary jumping mechanics from the game, and also adjusted the amount of experience gained.
The levels have become smaller, and Baldur's Gate is more interactive [players could communicate with many residents and take orders from them]. It's a pity the game was less. The disadvantages include the lack of a return potion. But you could save at any time.
Dark Alliance was a big hit for Interplay with a swing to the PlayStation 2 and Xbox sequel. Released in 2004, Dark Alliance II safely carried over with improvements everything that was in the first part. Since Chris Avellone was busy working on Champions Of Norrath, David Maldonado took on the role of writer and designer. As Black Isle Studios developed a sequel without obtaining due agreement from Snowblind, legal action was filed against Interplay.
Eldrit and her Tower of Onyx are gone down in history, and the heroes who defeated her disappeared. New dangerous entities have come to the lands of the Kingdom, and another group of adventurers sets off on a journey to Baldur's Gate in search of fame and fortune, and also, possibly, to find out the fate of their ancestors.
Despite the proud claims of a new direction from Black Isle producer Kevin Osbern, the sequel provided a familiar experience in many ways. The game engine is, as always, good, but with minor improvements to the interactivity of the environment. New monsters, weapons and missions have been intelligently introduced into the game. The game offered some flexibility and variety thanks to the workshop function, where characters could take base weapons and modify them with runes and various other gems to create magical weapons.
And yet it is impossible to talk about Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II without taking into account the events of those times. Interplay fought as hard as they could, but eventually they started selling their studios and eventually Black Isle [read more in our story on the fate and legacy of Black Isle]. Since the release of Dark Alliance II in 2004, there has been virtually no studio. Chris Avellone had already left in 2003, and all hopes for Baldur's Gate 3 have sunk into oblivion.
“I think Baldur's Gate and Dark Alliance still evoke a great sense of nostalgia today. People played the Gold Box and loved them, but there was nothing to replace them until the Baldur's Gate series came along. It wasn't just a good game, it turned the genre around, ”says Avellone.
For designer James Ohlen, the first Baldur's Gate in particular proved to be a great learning opportunity: “We've all learned. We learned from each other and from Black Isle, who had more experience than us. It helped shape what I know about video games today. ”
Today, the Baldur's Gate series lives on thanks to former BioWare programmer Cameron Tofer and his company Beamdog. By releasing improved versions of the original games, alongside other games like Neverwinter Nights. Beamdog capitalized on the same nostalgia that made Baldur's Gate so successful. Designed for modern systems, there hasn't been a better time to rediscover the world of Baldur's Gate.
The series has recently been completely revived thanks to Larian Studio, the creators of Divinity Original Sin. They will release Baldur's Gate 3 to Early Access this year.
This is the story of Baldur's Gate, but it's not over yet and will continue.
The Topic of Article: History of Baldur's Gate. Part Two: Dark Alliance.