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Resurrection: Baldur’s Gate

By Greg Giddens

Today Next Friday, since the date’s apparently been pushed back, a bunch of Interplay classics are re-released, all optimised to work on modern PCs.  One of these games is Baldur’s Gate.  Here’s why you should still care.

baldursgate1Baldur’s Gate defined a generation. A wealth of role-playing games were born from the success of BioWare’s classic, and the generation of gamers at the time were inspired and amazed by its achievements. It’s games of this impact that push the boundaries of what the medium is thought to be capable of.

Baldur’s Gate wasn’t a difficult game to learn. Its design allowed the modified AD&D Second Edition rule set to work its magic behind the scenes, leaving the player to concentrate on enjoying the experience of the narrative and characters. Knowing how the rule system worked and taking the time to master all the elements involved made the experience a little less punishing along the way. But the true magic behind the game was that, whatever the player’s level of knowledge, Baldur’s Gate remained accessible to all. Nothing was overly complicated, and the initially harsh combat simply encouraged a more cerebral approach. Simple controls and well designed menus kept things tidy and intuitive, all adding to its phenomenal success.

//It’s not the taking part that counts. It’s the winning…
The game’s timing helped, of course. The PC, while still the prominent gaming platform, was beginning to lose ground to the growing popularity of the consoles. The direction of RPGs’ style was being influenced by this shift, and so more and more games were shying away from the more traditional role-playing form, made popular in the mid to late 90s by games such as Diablo and Fallout. Baldur’s Gate defied stylistic and graphical progress in an attempt to maintain the standards of PC role-playing, and with great success. Among the crop of titles on offer at the time, Baldur’s Gate was able to provide a refreshing yet safely familiar experience, one that rallied PC gamers, raising morale and showing that the genre was certainly not dead.

Success can be measured by either quality or quantity. With Baldur’s Gate, neither was compromised by the other. The multi-linear setup allowed players to experience hundreds of side quests before committing to the narrative, and each quest and area was beaming with quality, with intelligent dialogue to detailed environments, rendered for style and individuality rather than simply tiled. The whole package was brought to life by smart design choices, leading to a single problem: having to put the game on five discs. The disc swapping became a nuisance early on, but despite this obstacle to immersion, Baldur’s Gate never felt like it was cutting corners in any respect, remaining interesting throughout.

//Armed to the teeth and packing a hamster
Narrative is vitally important in RPGs, and while Baldur’s Gate certainly has a well-paced, imaginative and interesting plot, it’s the characters that really drove it and made it as memorable as it remains today. Baldur’s Gate allowed inter-party relationships to dynamically evolve throughout the adventure, making for a much deeper and immersive experience than many similar titles at the time – and even now. As a result, the story remained interesting and dynamic, text dialogue was enhanced by its delivery, and players became attached to certain characters and personalities – none more so than Minsc and Boo, two of the most inspired characters to ever grace a videogame. baldursgate2Minsc’s demeanour and attachment to “giant miniature space hamster” Boo made them both household names, loved by players more so than their own created characters. While everyone in Baldur’s Gate had unique and well-written dialogue, Minsc’s quotes tread the line of genius and insanity with such unsteady footing that they live on, even to this day, as classics, and are a testament to the creative prowess of the BioWare team.

Achieving successes at release is a sign of a good game. Maintaining that success on a level that’s so much more than just nostalgia is an achievement only obtained by timeless classics. Baldur’s Gate proudly belongs to this exclusive club.

//Impersonation is the highest form of flattery
Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale, Dungeon Siege to an extent, and many more were all born from the popularity of the original Baldur’s Gate, it having revitalised the genre with its deep characters and narrative, excellent use of the AD&D rules, and attention to detail in all areas. It became a new benchmark, and inspired countless similar games for a number of years. Other titles set about to mimic the same qualities that made Baldur’s Gate the great game it is, but even a decade on nothing quite like it has surfaced. This is a game whose innovation has now been immortalised by an overwhelming response from fans, developers and the press. Today’s re-release packages prove its appeal is timeless.

We are truly blessed this month. Not only have we been given Dragon Age: Origins, a spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate, but renewed access to the Baldur’s Gate series itself, providing the current generation of PC gamers the same experience we fans so fondly remember and cherish. If you have yet to experience the magic, or want to revisit it without the hassle of swapping five discs, then now is your chance. I powerfully urge you to take it.

12 Comments

    [...] but have pushed them back to next week.  Greg wrote about one of them, the highly influential Baldur’s Gate, earlier today.  One that never excelled as much at the time, but has become something of a cult [...]

  • Great article. I have to go and play Baldurs Gate now as it has been far too long. You made me go and look up some sound-clips of Minsc, for your viewing pleasure – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ozv1RcQJAHA&feature=player_embedded

  • This is the best news I’ve heard.. like.. ever, I was just trying to get this game to work on Windows 7 last night and it wouldn’t!! It’s about time!

  • “optimised” eh? are they releasing patches for people who already own these games?

  • Sadly, DA:O isn’t nearly as good as BG 1/2.

  • Holy shit Batman! The stupidity meter is reaching critical levels! SAVE YOURSELF!

    “Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale, Dungeon Siege to an extent, and many more were all born from the popularity of the original Baldur’s Gate, it having revitalised the genre with its deep characters and narrative, excellent use of the AD&D rules,”

    No, you are so wrong it hurts my brain to even imagine someone could be so wrong.

    “Baldur’s Gate allowed inter-party relationships to dynamically evolve throughout the adventure,”

    In other news, the heroes have pushed back the saving of the world because they are still lacking part 11 of Jaheira’s LOVETALK.

    It’s interesting how Gold Box and Black Box managed to sell quiet a lot during a time when PC really wasn’t considered as a platform for games without any relationship faggotry.

    “The PC, while still the prominent gaming platform, was beginning to lose ground to the growing popularity of the consoles.”

    Could you perhaps back that up by sales numbers? Or server statistics? Or anything? No, it’s much more fun to just spew shit over the Internet.

    “The multi-linear setup allowed players to experience hundreds of side quests before committing to the narrative,”

    WTF? Can I have some of that shit you are smoking? ’cause we must have played different Baldur’s Gate games back in the 90s!

    “A wealth of role-playing games were born from the success of BioWare’s classic”

    Haha. Seriously, Bioware made something they called Infinity engine. In their lust for money, they were about to develop an RTS-game to rival Westwood’s Command&Conquer and/or Blizzard’s Warcraft. Luckily, the idiot doctors got some advice from the folks at Black Isle and they decided to make an 2nd ed D&D RPG instead.

    On the other hand, its too bad they didn’t make that RTS-clone. At least then they could not be blamed for the decline of RPG’s that’s been going on for over a decade.

  • Crikey. That’s just about the most negative viewpoint on Baldur’s Gate I’ve ever heard. It’s a pretty dissenting opinion, and while it’s entirely your right to hold it, it’d be nice if you refrained from calling those who disagree “stupid”.

    RE: backing up with statistics – I’m glad the article didn’t get bogged down by numbers. But the mid-to-late 90s did mark a real popularity rise for the consoles. I don’t think that’s disputable. PC gaming was certainly a niche back then as well, but among the hardcore it rose to popularity more quickly than consoles, with those following a couple of years later.

  • Yes, the game completely revived RPGs on the PC. Publishers thought the RPG genre was dieing just like Adventure games, and had become incredibly reluctant in publishing them. It’s true that they were great rpgs in 1995 -> 1997 (Fallout) but none of them were anywhere near the success of BG.

    I can only imagine what the game did to Haartz to cause this emotional scarring, and degradation of any respect or tact. lulz

  • “Could you perhaps back that up by sales numbers? Or server statistics? Or anything? No, it’s much more fun to just spew shit over the Internet.”

    Why would *he* need to back it up? You certainly don’t back up your meaningless drivel with facts, do you?

  • Wow, it seems like I really hit a nerve there, you know a tube of Sensodyn will clear that right up.

    But in all seriousness, the fact that you, Haartz, had a different experience with Buldur’s Gate than I, and many others had, is a good thing, it makes for a more interesting discussion, you just need to calm down a little bit, join the debate by all means but with an explained counter argument.

  • “At least then they could not be blamed for the decline of RPG’s that’s been going on for over a decade.”

    I take it you mean Bioware brought RPG’s into the maintstream?

    Yeah, nothing is cool once your friends start doing it too right?

    I guess that’s why you don’t get laid? ’cause that’s what 98% of other people do…

  • Wow, Haartz really seems to hate BG huh? There are easily documented (just look over at gamebanshee) huge amounts of side quests full of (in my opinion at least) a wealth of interesting NPCS in BG. Your suggestion that a pair of companies that have made many story driven rpgs and shared some design folks with the fallout crew were planning on using the infinity engine for an RTS seems a little far-fetched to me, show us your evidence for this, your statistics?
    Finally however it seems the core of your rant stems from you liking kick-in-the door dungeon crawls like the gold and black box, which is fair enough. This does NOT entitle you to look down upon and disparage other people’s taste in games, many people like NPCs who interact with them and each other, growing attached to them and the world they inhabit and this made games like BG, PS:T and now games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect much more compelling and fun. You may, without referencing some of your more vulgar statements, feel character, depth and emotion in NPCs is unwarranted and that they should simply obey your orders and not speak, perhaps you would indeed prefer an RTS to a ROLE-PLAYING game.
    The lovetalks usually took place after rests usually while getting on with the main quest and almost every rpg around doesn’t shanghai the player and force them to only follow the main quest. They want to let players explore the world and enjoy it and do what they want to, or at least those games that want any claim on non-linearity do.
    If you don’t want depth of character and resultant interaction stick to your black and gold boxes or newer hardcore dungeon crawlers as they come out, just don’t mock other people’s passtimes because they aren’t for you.
    Lastly, and this is probably hoping for a bit much being the internet; but in future if you want your arguments taken seriously do not fill them with abuse and cursewords and definitely do not ask for evidence from those you disagree with without presenting any of your own.

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