12.20.12

Revamping Baldur’s Gate and the beginnings of BioWare

An enhanced version of Baldur’s Gate has just been released for iOS. I haven’t downloaded it yet — that much game on a mobile device and always at my disposal is dangerous. I risk slinking off to the bathroom at work or turning my productive commute into an unproductive one. Very soon I will get it, and very soon it will take over my life.

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For all the joy and pain I will get out of it, BioWare went through their fair share of the same to get it to me. Eurogamer ran a piece that discussed the challenges of the initial release and the re-release, exploring the early foundation of the company; it’s a nostalgic, almost wistful trip.

Do you think that when a bunch of young guys who didn't really know what they were doing set about making Baldur's Gate over 15 years ago they gave any thought to how accessible their code would be in The Future? Nope. It's a massive plate of spaghetti, and it's caused all sorts of problems.

"So I came across some code and I was wondering, 'Who did this?!'" programmer-at-the-time Cameron Tofer recalls. "And it was actually my comment, there, in '96, and I'm like, 'Oh god.'

"That's pretty much exactly the feeling I got when I looked at any of the source art that I had," then-artist Russell Rice says. "It was like, 'Holy crap! We did this?'"

There is one part that was especially salient:

The knowledge and the technology that's around today must make what BioWare did back then look almost barbaric. Cameron Tofer reminds us that while it was messy and chaotic, from that was born the "magic" he believes the game is remembered for. Perhaps BioWare could use a sprig of chaos today.

With a fourth Mass Effect and a third Dragon Age slated for release, BioWare is not quite the daring company that it once was. They have made some of the best games of the past 20 years. With founders Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk retiring it may be difficult to retain their roots, but let’s hope they remember what made them great. All they need to do is pick up an iPad.