To the (pleasant) surprise of many, Baldur’s Gate 3 was revealed to not only be a thing last year at E3 but that it was also going to be revived under the care of one of the CRPG genre’s most respected names: Larian Studios.
The other day, Twinfinite alongside other members of the gaming press had an opportunity to speak to David Walgrave, executive producer at Larian Studios about Baldur’s Gate 3.
Like many of you, we wanted to learn more about how deep the game’s connections to Dungeon’s & Dragons will be this time around, how you’ll be able to interact with party members, and most importantly the level of care Larian Studios is putting into this beloved IP. Below is everything we learned.
Ed McGlone: What are the most important aspects of Baldur’s Gate series and how do you intend to ensure that all of that is carried over and improved upon and Baldur’s Gate 3?
David Walgrave, Executive Producer Larian Studios We thought about this before we started in pre-production obviously, and we decided that the most important thing that we need to keep from the original [games] is the party aspect, the trust aspect, and the companions.
So if you talk to anyone about Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2, they’re usually going to talk to you about characters and personalities and companions. I don’t think there are many other aspects that they talk about… they just want to talk to you about Edwin, they want to say like I hate his guts or I really like that guy. Why don’t you ever pick him up?
You can start talking about that and then there are certain choices that we made without thinking about it.
Like is it going to be turn-based or not? What’s the story we’re going to tell? So there are a lot of things… a theme that we took from Baldur’s Gate 1 which is, on one hand, the party, and on the other hand — which you may have recognized by the end of the presentation — is that you have a tadpole in your head that you can either use or try not to use, which is very much like Baldur’s Gate 1 & 2 where you turn out to be Bhaalspawn. How do you embrace it or not?
So that’s where you’re going to have your companions react not just to each other, but also to you. What choices do you make to drive your own agenda? And how do you handle the tadpole in your head?
Ed: Have most team members played Baldur’s Gate 1 & 2? Did they play them purposely prior to Baldur’s Gate 3 development? Do they still play it during development?
Walgrave: I can only speak for my team, for the designers and the writers. They played it. Some of them a lot longer than others. Some of them played it twenty years ago and remember enough. There are also a couple of guys that now have it for instance on iPad or they have the Enhanced Editions on Steam or Switch.
So they’re familiar with it. We’re also the type of company where we still have senior people walking around, people in their forties like me and we still remember why we liked Baldur’s Gate. We can’t force people but obviously a couple of [team members] like the younger ones realize “OK, so this is a big deal. I guess I’ll just check the old ones!”
Ed: How closely is Larian working with WOTC? Can you give some examples of how you work together and how the relationship works?
Walgrave: We do work closely together. So one of the first things we did was fly over to Seattle with a small group of Larian people talking to key people at Wizards of the Coast to get an idea of their design philosophy. What are their expectations for a computer game? How do they want us to implement the ruleset? To what extent are we free or not about the story that we would like to tell?
And I’m reacting to it and hoping that it would land well because one of the things that we always do is try to come up with something extreme, like something that’s unthinkable. As soon as we come up with an idea and a programmer or a scripter goes like: This is impossible! Then we know that yeah, this is gonna work!
We were hoping that Wizards of the Coast would react similarly. For instance, if you start talking: hey what if we bring Mind Flayers back and the player actually has a tadpole in their head. That was either up or down, so we were really excited when they said “that’s actually a great idea!
So the cool part about the relationship is that in that very first meeting when we talked to them about the story, they said something that stuck with me ever since. They said: We’re sitting around the table with the best Dungeon Masters when it comes to computer-RPGs. And then I knew that there were a lot of similarities between us in the stuff that we come up with and the way that we think about making RPGs.
There are things that we need to ask them: Can we do this? How do we do that? But by now a lot of that is really just when it comes to artwork or legal lines or so- There are things that we used to have to check off with them, but we quickly realized what we could do and what we couldn’t do. They have a Slack channel with us where we can just fire questions at them. The relationship is really good.
Also when we started talking to them about the Mind Flayer idea, they mentioned that they need to incorporate this in all of the stuff that they’re going to do with Forgotten Realms and 5th Edition, which is also really cool because they’re taking our story and what is going to happen in our story into account for future books that they’re going to publish.
Ed: One of the things fans really enjoyed about the original games were the NPCs, namely how well they were written and voice-acted. How does the team intend to match or exceed the high benchmark set by the previous Baldur’s Gate games?
Walgrave: Hmm I’m trying to think… We have 12 or 13 writers working on this and a lot of them are seniors and they’ve made one or two more games with Larian. One of them has made Divinity: Original Sin, Original Sin 2, and Dragon Commander.
So we have a lot of senior writers working on this and they are constantly doing peer reviews. We have an editor who’s also just making sure that the style and voice are always the same.
So writing actually gets a lot of attention, also because by the time we actually approve something and it goes through voice recording and mo-capping, and lip-syncing… you start spending a lot of money.
So it’s very important that when dialogue is being sent to the studio to be recorded that it’s fine, it’s really good dialogue.
Ed: What level of interaction will player’s have with their party members? Will there be a romance system? In what ways can we get to know our party members?
Walgrave: Whenever you are making important decisions or even side decisions, they will react to it. They will start reacting to other people in the party as well. The encampment moments are also very important. You can select who to talk to, and in the camp, there will indeed be romance.
Ed: While this is a Baldur’s Gate game obviously, your team does have experience making your own original series which has been very well received. What are some aspects of Divinity that were not seen in Baldur’s Gate previously that you plan to infuse into the series as of Baldur’s Gate 3?
Walgrave: Hmm… I think the interactivity. So, for instance, one of the things we like about Ultima games was the interactivity. You could pick up anything, you could use anything, and the way that works in Ultima is a very systemic simulation type of thing which is not as expensive when you talk about budget and manpower as you would think. Like you need to set it up… [but] it’s a simulation, so it starts taking care of itself.
That is something that we then started implementing in all of the Divinity games and is now present in Baldur’s Gate as well because that’s a technology that we will always carry over from one project to another. It gives you so much to play with, it gives you almost free gameplay, it gives you so many options.
For instance, one of the things I feel is very D&D, and apparently Wizards of the Coast also feels is D&D, is all of these systems and systemics that are working in the background which actually give the player a lot of freedom to come up with certain solutions that the designers didn’t come up with.
So when you start using these systems, you start using the game against itself and it might feel like you’re cheesing and glitching everything, but that’s actually what we want you to do. It’s also something that you do in a tabletop D&D. You start talking to the Dungeon Master and you go like: Is there a light on the wall? Yeah, there’s a torch on the wall. Okay, I take the torch. You need to be able to do that type of stuff and even if your Dungeon Master goes like uhh OK.. but this is also something that is possible in Larian games.
Ed: Right, so when we were watching the demo, there was obviously a plan in place for the presenter, but bugs got in the way, which forced the presenter to come up with a whole different strategy.
Walgrave: It’s also not just bugs. There were stupid decisions or really bad rolls [laughs]. We’re not afraid of doing the presentation like that because it’s either the idea that all of these different paths are scripted and open… or that the systems that are running under the hood will just take care of it. Like you said, in the end, he didn’t have any magic spells, and then you can just start throwing barrels and crates around because that’s just what you can do.
[Editor’s Note: He’s referencing a situation where the presenter was faced with a bug during the demo where he couldn’t use any spells. Prior to the demo we were warned that there were going to be bugs as it was a very early build.]
Ed: Is there a DM or GM mode planned for Baldur’s Gate 3?
Walgrave: Hmm.. not yet. We’re not thinking about that currently. We need to first focus on the game. Because I think the way that we did game master mode in Original Sin 2 was started alongside the game.
We need to do a better analysis and it needs to have a better architecture. So it’s something that I’m trying not to think about. We first need to have the base game.
I know that Dungeon Master mode for Baldur’s Gate 3 would make a lot of sense and also what we set out to do with the Game Master mode was like… Remember Neverwinter Nights you could write your own module and it was a lot of fun, and a lot of people wrote a lot of modules, and I think that I had more fun with Neverwinter Night’s modules than with Neverwinter Nights.
So we wanted to have something similar because there hasn’t been anything like that in the last 15 years or so. I still think that there is indeed an audience for it, but we just need to figure out how to do it and how to do it well.
Ed: We saw and spoke a lot about the D&D elements today. How close will the BG3 implementation of D&D 5e be to the pen-and-paper version? Can you elaborate a bit on what players can expect with your implementation of D&D and pen and paper rules? Fans are really eager to know as many details as you can about this topic so anything you can tell us, no matter how small, would be very appreciated.
Walgrave: That’s a lot!
Ed: Highlights then!
Walgrave: So basically we are trying to implement the D&D rules as much as we can to the letter. I think we succeeded in that for like 95%. There are a couple of things that we’re not doing because they don’t make sense in a computer game or there are things that we’re doing… you will have those features in the game, but they will differ a bit because it’s a computer game.
So for instance: one of the things that we don’t have in the way that it is implemented in tabletop are reactions. In tabletop 5th Edition, you actually interrupt someone and you go: I’m gonna react to that, but this is something that we didn’t want to do in a computer game because then you have to like constantly sit there, and the way that we’re now doing the round base thing, it really didn’t agree with it.
It’s something that we tried it out, but it doesn’t really work. We do have reactions but they’re more passive things in the background as your characters will execute their reactions. So that feature is present, but it’s just implemented a bit differently.
I don’t think that there are actually things that we dropped unless they were magic spells that don’t make sense in a computer game, that are too hard to implement, or that don’t make sense in the setting that we’re in.
Ed: How will Baldur’s Gate 3 treat good/neutral and evil paths? How, if anything, will those alignments affect things like the story, party makeup, NPC interaction and things like that?
Walgrave: Well as you can see in the presentation [the presenter] chose a lot of evil options because he wanted to roleplay a vampire. So those things are very much possible and they will have an effect not only on the story, but also on your party and how your companions react to you.
Ed: Can you lose party members based on your actions?
Ed: Can you roll for stats? How will that work?
Walgrave: You can! In the character creation, you can accept what’s there or you can use the point buy option, or you can roll for stats. We’re going to implement I think two or three different ways of doing it.
Ed: At what point will Larian deem Baldur’s Gate 3 ‘ready? Whether it’s Early Access, launch or… What’s the most important thing?
Walgrave: When you look at the presentation there are still a couple of very obvious bugs in there that we also see, and that we need to fix. We know how to [fix] those. Those are OK.
But then there is the soft stuff that you cannot describe. It just needs to feel fun and it needs to be good. And that’s the hardest part to actually try and plan. What needs to work is all of the different choices and consequences, and the combat needs to feel really good.
We can always improve stuff here and there, but I think what is important is that when you walk through act one in Early Access that you don’t think this is an Early Access game.
So everything needs to be present, everything needs to work. We should not run into very critical bugs. Since these games are now as complex as they are, it’s very hard to make anything really bug-free. Yet, if you choose for instance a dialogue option and all of a sudden everyone freezes or stuff stops working, that’s not something that’s acceptable for us.
Since we have so many origin characters and so many different options and consequences, I think that the stress is really on that.
Ed: Will there be anything like a physical big box edition option?
Walgrave: I don’t know.
Ed: Will Baldur’s Gate 3 be a one and done thing, or are there expansions planned once the base game is done and if it’s well-received?
Walgrave: We don’t know… The big box is something that I would really like. I know a lot of people at the company don’t want to do that because it’s really a lot of effort for not a lot of return on investment.
But.. you know, I’m old-school and I’m sure that a lot of fans are also old-school, especially among RPG gamers. It’s something that I would really like but I have to like, you know, win a couple of people over. As for expansions… we’re not thinking about that now.
Baldur’s Gate 3 doesn’t yet have a release but is expected to enter Steam Early Access at some point in 2020. It will also release on Google Stadia.