Salvaging Baldur’s Gate: the “horror” of getting the original code in shape for the Enhanced Edition
Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition is the attempt of Overhaul Games to recreate and expand upon “the greatest roleplaying game of all time.” Trent Oster, the president and director of business development at Beamdog, has been working closely with Wizards of the Coast and Atari to bring this new, enhanced vision of Dungeons & Dragons to PC, Mac, iOS, and Android. We’ve talked with Oster about some of the business difficulties behind the updated game, and now it’s time to dig into another aspect of this project. The greatest RPG has a secret: it’s stuffed full of incredibly inefficient code.
“Does the word horror mean anything to you?” Oster asked the Penny Arcade Report. “I’ve been going through the user interface code a lot lately, and I’ve found just a ton of duplicates and references to the same pieces of art. So literally it’s the same piece of art that will appear 10, 15 times. And you’re not sure which version of it is being used by which file.”
Overhaul tried to retain as much code as they could, at least initially. That proved to be a headache, and Oster opted for more drastic measures. “I’ve been taking the kind of nuclear weapon approach to it, which is if you kill them all, then whatever’s left, that’s the one you deal with,” he said.
Cameron Tofer, co-founder of Beamdog, said he was just glad they found anything left from the original code. “Baldur’s Gate is a big project, and when you think about what we’re actually doing is crazy. We’re taking Baldur’s Gate, throwing it into a different engine, and moving it to four new platforms on code that’s fifteen years old. It’s no small task.”
Don’t worry, there’s only a couple hundred thousand lines of code to fix
“At a time when other games were throwing around a couple hundred assets, Baldur’s Gate was throwing around hundreds of thousands of separate assets. It was really kind of its advantage. The disadvantage is that this was done in the timeline of Windows 3.1, Windows 95, so their approach was very colored by that era,” Oster explained.
The biggest “trick” up Baldur’s Gate‘s sleeve, Oster explained, was palletization, a process that maps pixels to a palette containing only specified colors. This was how Baldur’s Gate handled things like character customization and color swaps on re-used assets. “Palettized stuff pretty much died out in like 2000, and I thank God for that, because it is horrible stuff. But with Baldur’s Gate we have to go back and literally fight our way through that swamp all over again,” Oster told the Penny Arcade Report.
The game will run at 2048 by 1536 on the iPad 3, with most of the UI elements re-created from scratch
It’s an arduous task to be sure, but Oster and his team have help. Dedicated players and fans of Baldur’s Gate have already contributed to Overhaul’s progress by pointing out previously-discovered bugs, and more recently, contributing translations during the localization process. “Every guy who’s who in the Baldur’s Gate community, who’s ever made a mod or who’s ever made a name for himself, he’s on our beta team, and he’s working with us right now to make this awesome,” Tofer said.
Oster was quick to agree. “It’s like a giant reunion on our forums, it’s just like everybody who’s anybody is in there,” he said. The team sees the fanbase not just as emotional support, but technical as well. “We’re treating these guys essentially as members of the dev team… the goal going long-term is we stay engaged with these people. When they find problems or they find ideas on how to make the game even better, we continue to work with these guys. These guys know Baldur’s Gate better than anybody on the planet. I think even the original dev team don’t know Baldur’s Gate as thoroughly as some of these guys.”
In terms of sheer numbers, language may be the biggest obstacle Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition has to overcome. Tofer told the Penny Arcade Report that the team had fixed more around 1,000 bugs and errors, many of which were simple typos.
“Here’s a small example: There’s an item, you read the description, it gives you +3 to whatever, but it actually doesn’t. It actually gives you a +2,” Tofer said. “So there’s little things like that, that from like a grand perspective we’re making little fixes, but our job as far as enhancing the greatest roleplaying game of all time is gonna be appreciated. And when we talk about fifteen years from now, this game is gonna be like… polished. It’s gonna be like, holy cow.”
You can’t beat the feel of a good dose of nostalgia
Code isn’t the only thing that’s changed since the original release of Baldur’s Gate, though. In an age of digital distribution services like Steam–although Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition will be a Beamdog exclusive on the PC–the art of the video game manual and physical presence of gaming has diminished. Oster and Tofer both agreed they didn’t want that for their work. When asked if it was important anymore for games to have a physical space occupied in a store, Tofer said, “It’s only important to this product.”
“I think Baldur’s Gate for us is a lot about nostalgia,” Oster said. “I remember cracking open the Ultima 3 box, and it had this fake leather-bound spellbook and manual and map. This is the stuff that you remember 10 years, 15 years down the road after playing the game.” Overhaul is working on plans to release a physical collector’s edition of Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition, though neither Oster nor Tofer could offer any details as to what would be packaged inside. Whatever they choose, they want it to have a “real Dungeons & Dragons feel to it,” and their close collaboration with Wizards of the Coast will dictate how that plays out. Recent Twitter updates have hinted at the struggle of releasing a physical product, unfortunately.
The game is also coming to Android platforms, and Oster thinks that the game has the opportunity to show that a good game with a dedicated fan base can find success on that platform. “If it’s a good game, hopefully people buy it. I view it as a chance for the Android market to gain visibility as a positive place to be.” He stated that this release could show that the piracy debate is “background noise,” and Baldur’s Gate 2 could also come to Android if the first game finds an audience. If not? “At that point, we’re just going to have to make the appropriate call, I guess.”
When asked if there would be a need for an enhanced Enhanced Edition 15 years from now, Tofer joked with the Penny Arcade Report, “They won’t even bother, it’ll be perfect.” There are even bigger plans as well, with the possibility of a Baldur’s Gate 3. “Long term, there’s a goal to make a Baldur’s Gate 3 on our side, and I know there’s interest on the other side, it’s just a matter of seeing how successful Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition is and seeing if we can work out deal terms on what it would take it to make it happen.”
Jason Manley is Creating Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition Portraits While Reminiscing About It
It's unclear if he'll be contributing to Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition as well, but it's definitely worth noting an update to Jason Manley's Facebook page that brings the good news that the former Black Isle Studios portrait artist (and former Massive Black CEO) has been recruited by Overhaul Games to work on "a big batch" of new portraits for Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition. Hearing him reminisce about the good times at BIS makes me even more excited that so many of the original members are involved in this latest endeavor:
On break from painting up a big batch of portraits for Baldurs Gate. Nostalgic memory floods from my early days at Black Isle. Feargus Urquhart giving me open proxy access to get onto playboy's website for reference hunting (and the confused looks of other co-workers as I searched away), Joshua Eric Sawyer writing descriptions for me when he was the BIS super webmaster, Stephen Bokkes brainstorming levels with me, Pete Meihuizen's drum and bass and lunch at the gyspy den, Justin Sweet's invaluable lessons for puddnhead and I, Darren Monahan and that plastic bat ritualistically carried during the collection of morning updates, Malavon lunchbreaks and QUAKE 3, Puddnhead hanging a massive nude oil painting (with bush) in his office regardless of what corporate thought, Andrew Jones turning down ILM to join us in the pursuit of art, Chris Parker moving me out of painting dirt and into concept art, Vance Kovacs talks about color theory and teaching me to texture 3D dirt in lightwave, and tons of other thoughts about the Black Isle gurus who have kicked so much ass in the industry since my career began. I am officially in the time warp of nerdy delicious awesome ...and it has me painting again. Thanks to Andrew and Puddnhead for encouraging me to do this. It is nice to see that I can, in fact, still paint a head....though I am breaking my promise to never paint elves or dwarves again. I forgot how fun this was. Forever a games geek at heart...and full of fond memories from the past. Thanks to Trent Oster for the opportunity to relive some of the old days.
If you have any questions for the dev team, this would be your chance!
We'll be doing an AMAA on Reddit this Wednesday, August 29th starting around 1:30-2pm MST (GMT -6)!
August 27 in General
we've had a few people express to us that they were interested in having a Q&A session with the BG:EE team! So, we decided the best place to do this Q&A would be on reddit this upcoming Wednesday!
For those not familiar, a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) is a kind of open-forum interview. You can see an example of what it's all about here: http://www.reddit.com/r/iama
We'll be available from the start time until the end of our work day, so, probably at least 4+ hours.
Taking part will be everyone present in the office - myself, Trent Oster, our designers, our artists, our writers and our programmers. We'll make a formal introduction on the day of for you to read and find out exactly who we all are.
For necessary reasons it has to be an "AMAA" - Ask [us] ALMOST Anything - as even though we're willing to answer pretty much anything there will be some contractual-related questions we may not be able to answer depending on what people want to know.
If you have questions for the team, now's your chance to be heard and answered as best we can. =)
Help us get the word out - chances are the time will be too tight for us to do another session like this before the game is released. We're looking forward to hearing from you! =)
So, it looks like they're going to continue with the AMAA tomorrow.
Okay, so, here's the deal. We got totally Obama'd. It's cool though - we are seriously going to write his administration and demand a case of White House beer as reparation for his faux pas.
The AMA is going to be ongoing for tomorrow - if you have questions, post it in the AMA. TrentOster is still answering, and so will I from home this evening as late as we can. In addition, once we're all in tomorrow we'll keep answering so long as we get questions.
Thank you so much, all of you, for your support of us and for your interest. We really want to do right for the community who loves this game, and for who this game is sacrosanct. You guys rule.
New content! we're adding 3 new NPC's, a new class kit, and two new adventures - one of which has been announced, the Black Pits, a stand-alone sort of arena adventure and another which Trent has referred to as Adventure Y. More info to come later on that. New voice acting and music to go along with the new areas.
Godlings, I have come to give you an important message: The realm of www.baldursgate.com has been updated to include a section known as The Candlekeep Library, which will be where major public announcements are made. Not unlike the official blog of yore.
Today it opens with an extra fancy treat: 9 new screenshots from Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition. Later this week some other cool things will appear, such as a series of vignettes written by our very own Dave Gross. And perhaps something for your earballs.
This may actually be awesome since Trent gives his blessings on it.
I usually play a Thief too, so double score!
They should be sending out pre-load links soon too, with only 5 more days until it goes live!
Just heard the rough thief voice set. The actor totally hit the role. I think I have my new favorite voice set.
I'm a sad panda.
But I guess it might be even more awesome now.
Dear Friends of Baldur’s Gate,
When we first announced Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition, You set fire to our servers and we were overwhelmed by the huge wave of support from the fans of the original game.
Once the fires had subsided, thousands of you posted suggestions and requests on our forums. Dozens of volunteers from all over the world helped us improve game play, squash bugs, and generally fine-tune the game. Even more came to help work on translations from English to more than 16 other languages.
Executing on our plan to make the best Baldur’s Gate possible and responding to that overwhelming feedback, we’ve added new characters, areas, and story, creating many new hours of game play. Yet the suggestions, fixes, and translations continue, and more volunteers keep joining.
After recently reviewing the game and then consulting with our partners, we've decided to ensure that Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition is the best possible product on launch. Thus, we have pushed back the release date of the game. Our release date is now November 30th, 2012.
To all who have pre-ordered, we ask for your patience as we move toward our final release date -- and we will be working on something a little extra for you. To all who have volunteered, we thank you for your dedication and support.
Hi friends. Despite the disappointing news of the release pushback, we have some neat stuff for you. Our talented Dave Gross has written the first chapter in a series of vignettes about our new characters, and it's now available.
In addition, there's a sample of Mark Meer as Rasaad yn Bashir after the story. Enjoy!
Hi folks. Our latest addition to the Candlekeep Library is an a story by Dave Gross (With some input from me, as he keeps claiming) about Neera the Wild Mage, along with a sample of her voice acting by actress Nicola Elbro.
I wish we could show more of the hell hounds conversation, because it's pretty hilarious.
How do you feel about Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition?
JESawyer: Personally, I think it's cool. After playing Battleheart on the iPad I started to think that the IE games would probably be pretty fun on a tablet with a stylus. I know there were already some places emulating/running those games on tablets, but it's cool to see an official re-release to those platforms.
Tim Cain: I am looking forward to it, but I think I will have to buy a new tablet, since I have an original iPad.
Chris Avellone respectfully bows:
I'm really glad Trent (Oster) is bringing it back, and it can't have been easy to make it happen. Looking forward to playing it.