By Al Giovetti
The interesting claim to fame of Dr. Ray Muzyka, CEO of Bioware, is that he has played many role playing games. The doc sites as his favorites Wizardry, Wasteland, Ultima IV, Ultima V, Ultima Underworld, System Shock, and Betrayal at Krondor. We hope that Ray and Bioware have learned the lessos that these early games have tought on how to do a good role playing game.
Interplay has had a bad year in computer games partly because of the poorly executed and prematurely released Descent to Undermountain. About 10% of Interplay's staff were recently laid off in an effort to satisfy investors and stockholders that Interplay is trimming the fat. One of the first things to go was the upcoming Star Trek: Secret of Vulcan Fury game which was slated for emminent release. Luckily Baldur's Gate and Bioware were not in the part of the company that was axed by Brian Fargo's management team.
Due to the financial problems and the premature release of Descent to the Undermountain, Interplay is vowing that it will not be pushed into releasing its game before its time. Baldur's Gate fits into this category and Interplay is refusing to set a release date for the product. The official word is that Baldur's Gate is not working well enough in multiplayer and will be released when it is working, and not before. Interplay is to be applauded at this policy.
Games should never be rushed out to the marketplace before they are finished. Everyone suffers when a game is prematurely released. The cancelation of Secret of Vulcan Fury as a title will hurt game players everywhere. Brian Fargo, Interplay, and the stockholders are not the only loosers in Interplay's failure to turn a profit this year.
The game is a real-time role playing game with the full statistics and advancement required by 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules and not an abbreviated game, such as Diablo. Alignment and all six of the original statistics of strength, intelligence, wisdom, dexterity, constitution, and charisma are in the game and will be computed according to AD&D 2nd edition rules. Six races will be available to the player including dwarves, elves, gnomes, half-elves, halflings, and humans. Eight core character classes will be represented,including the bard, cleric, druid, fighter, mage, paladin, ranger, and thief class. The monk from 1st edition AD&D rules is not here, but curiously the druid is here. Go figure?
Gate was originally reported to support a party of six, including your alter ego. The new data indicates that Gate supports a party of up to six characters, like the older role playing games, which had multiple parties of as many as 30 characters, such as Challenge of the Five Realms from 1993. A pool of up to 25 NPC companions will be available during the game to travel with the main character. Character composition is a factor in gameplay since, according to Bioware, "alignment will be important in Baldur's Gate."
Characters who are lawful good may have problems with characters who are chaotic evil, even if they are party members. Characters of incompatible alignment are liable to bicker and even fight, putting your entire party at risk. You must make your choices carefully when constructing an effective party for certain sub-quests.
Newer role playing games, save Diablo, have spurned role-playing with single player and artificial intelligence controled party of many chracters as seen in Pool of Radiance, and numerous other Forgotton Realms Games, for the single player game with multiple human controlled player options over modem, network, or internet. And while human cooperative and competitive play is fun, it is not the entire role playing experience that many have been missing the last few years.
Computer controlled non-player characters can join and quit your party. The party members will have different skills, and scripts to go with them. The game player will be able to edit the scripts for each character to customize and personalize the responses.
The game display will be in the overhead oblique perspective. Again the game designers will break with the current tradition of first person perspective to return to the Ultima style overhead oblique view. Diablo may have increased the awareness of game players and game designers to this old and established view.
The game will be real-time, but the speed will be adjustable so that the game will appear to be turn-based when set to very slow speeds.
Character creation is typical AD&D with pre-rolled characters, character editing to fit characters to favorite character stats, and custom character creation with dice rolls to determine statistics. Characters will begin at level 0 and move up to a limit of level 6, as a result spells will max out at level 3. Multi-class and Dual class characters will be supported for demi-humans, hopefully racial character limitations will be optional in later games. Since level 6 is the highest level attainable in the game racial class level limitations will be mute.
Limiting characters to level 6 seems very unrealistic, considering the considerable playing time that people will be putting into the game. Players will be very angry if their characters have immense experience and they do not get the levels associated with that experience. Requiring players to start over after a certain level will also create much player anger. It will be interesting to see how the game is implemented when released.
Ray explained the game plot: "The basic story involves the regions around the cities of Baldur's Gate and Amn. These cities are embroiled in nefarious intrigue that endangers the entire Sword coast and may precipitate a war. The conflict all centers around a shortage of iron ore in the area precipitated by the failure of the only iron ore mine in Naskell on the southernmost tip of the Sword Coast.
Merchants are being attacked, especially if they happen to be dealing in the iron trade; the Zhentarim are being implicated and the Harpers are being forced to take action against this uprising by some force of evil. If the player’s character is for the common good, he or she will need to unravel the stratagem behind this struggle for power, and to prevent the war which threatens to engulf the region or, if not, the goal is to try and assume more power in the process...To say much more might spoil the game."
The game will have a major plot line with parallel plots and sub plots, also like the older style role playing adventure games that many game players wish to return to the market. Characters will move from chapter to chapter as seen in Betrayal at Krondor. A reputation will follow each character from chapter to chapter and the non-player characters will have memories of previous encounters with the player and computer controlled party based characters.
The graphics are fully-rendered 16-bit color. The lighting effects show multiple shadows and translucencies. The world will have over 10,000 individual locations for a very large game. Each location is not tile based but individually rendered in two dimensions, making each loaction unique. Like other overhead oblique engines, the
UtilitiesAn automap and autotravel system allows you to return instantly to any location that you have previously visited saving you the repetition of slogging all the way back across the realm. Editing tools are being developed and back to back sequels are planned which would expand the levels attainable to 12th and 18th level respectively.
Compare toPool of Radiance, Pool of Darkness, Eye of the Beholder, Menzoberranzan, Ultima, Betrayal at Krondor, and Wasteland.
The multiplayer game will operate like a MUD, with hundreds of players online and interacting at the same time within the single player world. The online subquests will be updated periodically to give the game longevity. Several features on my wish list for this game include computer controlled party characters, player characters that assume computer control when a party member is missing for a short time, and the ability to download the updated sub-quests to play on the single player version of the game. These goals, if achieved, sound like a dream come true.
Baldur's gate seems to be correcting the mistake of Ultima Online and other game creators, who make games simply for online play. Many game players crave scripted single-player missions, while others swoon over multi-player games. The combination of both multi and single player options and scripted play even in the multi-player mode shows real vision that Interplay has been known for since the days of Bard's Tale.
You will be able to team up to play the scripted game with up to five other online players for a total of six players on the internet and LANs. Two players can play over modem in cooperative play mode.
Cheats, Hints, Walkthrough
JournalistsCindy, an astute reviewer from the old school, has great expectations for this game. We agree with her assessment, "This title could rock."
ReferencesCindy Yans, Computer Strategy Plus, 1997
Desslock, GameSpot, December, 1998
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