Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

So If The Videogame Thing Doesn’t Work Out, I Guess We Could Fall Back On Being Doctors…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 17, 2010

This interview at RPS with the founders of Bioware is fun. Whether it’s the fact that NOBODY knew what they were doing in the studio when they made Baldur’s Gate, their decision to follow their dreams and make videogames in spite of having spent years and serious money into graduating from med school (and deciding they could “fall back” on being doctors if the game thing didn’t work out), or all the publishers telling them RPGs were dead and that there was no hope for this game, or the fact that they started with the Direct X 3 “Asteroids” demo as the starting point for their Infinity engine, I’m not sure what part is the best.

Rock Paper Shotgun: Bioware Interview On Baldur’s Gate

But there’s another story here. A personal one, I guess.

Frankly, I feel like Bioware peaked with Baldur’s Gate 2. Nevermind that I spent more time playing Neverwinter Nights than any non-MMO ever. The more recent stuff hasn’t really thrilled me, though I still haven’t taken the time to play DA:O. I may love it and have to recant.

Maybe this is just something that happens to people who pretend to be critics, who are over-exposed to a genre. The smoothed-out orderly crowd-pleasing fair is just too dull, while the indie, garage-band type stuff has much more raw appeal. I dunno.

Still, I loved the story of the group of clueless newbs putting together one of the best-selling RPGs of all time.

Filed Under: Interviews, Retro - Comments: 10 Comments to Read

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    While I appreciate that bioware are one of the last developers to make big-budget RPGs, I’m disappointed in their current direction.

    Mass Effect and Dragon Age were good, but not great, and I never quite got drawn in to them like I did Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights, and I’ve replayed those games a few times over the years. I can’t see myself replaying ME or DAO.

    Perhaps the point you make about over-exposure is true, and I have paid far more attention to indie stuff in recent years.

    Plenty of stuff I missed first time around though, and I recently started Planescape Torment. We’ll have to see if it lives up to my high expectations!

  • McTeddy said,

    I agree with both of you on this, though I think the problem is the watering down of genres.

    Those of us who enjoyed old dungeon crawls wanted to explore and create our own story. Those who loved JRPG’s wanted strong characters. Those who enjoyed shooters wanted to shoot something. It was strict rules that we all understood.

    Today, because of the massive cost of a mainstream game, they need to get sales from more people. Sadly, the only way to do that is to target multiple genres.

    -Long drawn out (yet still cliche and overdone) story for RPG fans.
    -Dumb down tactics for shooter fans.
    -Add Upgrades for character development fans.

    Sadly, this leads to the fact that as a fan I only get a taste of what I want. It’s like going to a buffet when all I want is steak… I paid extra and the steak is already gone.

    Indy people can target niches. This means that they can give the specific target EVERYTHING he wants. This is why people like us pay more attention to indy. It gives ME what I want to play, not me and a billion other people.

  • Brian 'Psychochild' Green said,

    I wonder how much of the “fall back on being doctors” thing did help them. It’s easier to take risks and push a bit further if you have the security in knowing that you have an escape path. If you’re dedicated to games and nearly unable to do anything else, there’s a bit more creeping fear that might hold you back from really pushing forward.

    Obviously you also have to have some talent and passion, but I do wonder if that helped them go from being “good” to “great”.

  • Bad Sector said,

    And the thing is, i’m a huge shooter fan and while i loved ME2 (and ME1 but shooting was more prevalent in ME1) i found the shooting the worst part of the game :-).

  • McTeddy said,

    I actually agree that the shooting was the worst part.

    In my case, it’s because when I started playing that game I had expected more customization and exploration, two of the major draws for an RPG.

    Instead, my RPG desires needed to wait an hour while I complete a mission… AKA sit behind a box and snipe enemies. This really disappointed my inner RPG lover.

    I will never say that it is a bad game, but I will say that it didn’t meet the expectations that I had going into it. That fact left me wanting more.

  • srobinson said,

    First of all, I loved BG1 and BG2, both are still highly playable, though BG2 more so.

    Things changed a little with NWN, again, still a decent game, and the toolset was genius, people still make mods for that game, some of them great. But putting aside the toolset, here is where a pattern started to emerge.

    I’m only talking about NWN, KOTOR, and DA, didn’t play Jade Empire and ME was not RPG enough for me to play for long.

    But basically all these games followed the same formula. You create one player. You gain party members as the game progresses. You get more party members than you can have at one time, so you can swap them in and out. If you talk to party members enough at the right time, they all have quests. Also depending on the game, actions and dialogue options will effect your standing with said party members.

    Now, for the plot. After the first couple of hours, you will have an idea of the major plot, and you will have 3 or 4 options of where to go that you can tackle in any order, you need to complete them all, but you get to choose the order. For example, in KOTOR you have the choice a few planets. In NWN it is districts in the city. In DA certain regions to get allies. Again, can be done in any order, but all must be done.

    Now for gameplay. Once you go to the area you choose, there will be some talking to npcs, then you go to the Dungeon, which really is a pretty linear string of rooms, all of which contain combats. This culminates in a boss fight. Rinse and repeat, this is pretty much the game.

    The other thing to note is seeing artifacts from previous games. KOTOR seemed like NWN with much better graphics, but you start seeing the same fonts, same border for dialogue window, etc. Then you play DA and running through certain areas and the grass and plant graphics look a lil sharper but pretty much like KOTOR. These are just a couple examplea, but there are dozens.

    Again I can’t talk to ME so much, but there is a clear connection from NWN–>KOTOR–>DA, and you can still borrowed items and design features through all three.

    Now not to say these are bad games, just not the BG games, and also seems that bioware found a formula that worked for them and they continue to use it.

    I could go into a lot more depth, I could write a long paper on this, but it is late, and Ive had a little bit to drink!

  • srobinson said,

    Just to add to the last point, this is why Bioware has lost a lot of luster for me. They have a formula which seems to sell them a lot of games, but I’m tired of playing that game. Again, can’t speak to ME, but neither seems much like an rpg to me.

  • Calibrator said,

    Personally, I have very mixed feelings about Bioware.
    On the one hand they are undoubtedly a clever bunch who are able to pump out large quality games that seem to fill the need of many gamers out there. They are also clever business people who farm out commercially needed sequels to lesser studios like Valve successfully did with the Half-Life expansions. Only problem is that they chose Obsidian…

    You are certainly right that there is a pattern here and that the Bioware “RPGs” have been dumbed down a bit in the recent years there are some things to be taken into account:

    a) Bioware has to cater to console players to survive as a company that large. I don’t think the EA deal helps in this regard…

    b) They *are* innovative and this still shows here and there. Whether it’s the quality of facial animation in ME or their capability to sell an Orient-based fighting game as an action-CRPG (no they weren’t the first to do that: Origin tried it with Moebius and Windwalker with mixed success before).

    c) The newer games are in part criticized just because they aren’t like BG. This is especially problematic as BG1 & BG2 are in some respects the most overrated PC-RPGs ever (with the possible exception of Morrowind and Oblivion).
    Just take a look at BG/BG2 with their “Infinity Engine”: Prerendered map graphics in multi-gigabyte size as a means for copy protection (clever!).
    Yes, they were a bit (but not substantially) better looking than the much more economical tile-based games but they offer much less interaction with the map (some crates/barrels/chests here, a door there and some traps to get the player excited). Compare that to Wasteland…
    OK, I admit it: I hate the IE games as I never felt that they offered an integrated gaming world. The party and NPCs always seemed to not be part of the gaming world but “floating” above a pretty picture they can’t do much with. Compare to the Eschalon games which do a much better job here, IMHO.
    What made BG1/2 rise above the competition was the well implemented scenario, very good writing (even if the script sometimes hammers you with forced drama), a good combat system for the time and a large, diverse playfield to dwell in.
    Yes, BG2 was a bit more streamlined and a higher screen resolution but it was essentially more of the same with quests hitting you as fast and thick as bugs hit a windshield on the freeway.

    d) You criticize having to do every area and the only thing you can choose is the order. Well, friggin Ultima 4 was already doing the same: You had to do all dungeons to get to the lowest level to get the necessary stuff to complete the game.
    Yes, at least you can choose the order – in *many* games you can’t even do that.

  • srobinson said,

    Hey there is no shame in not being a fan of IE games. Personally I liked them a great deal, but it would be dishonest of me to say there were not big flaws in those games.

    I guess the main point for me is that the last 3 Bioware games I have played(NWN, KOTOR, DA), for a significant amount of time, are so similar. They keep making the same game over and over. Sure the settings are different, and they have different stories, but when I boot them up doesn’t take very long to see the other games peeking through. Doesn’t mean I think they are bad. And I’m glad they are still producing big budget rpg titles, but it doesn’t excite me the way it used to. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for rpgs, and I’ll probably pick up their future titles, I just hope that someday they mix up the formula a little.

  • DungeonHamster said,

    Bioware continues to make quality games, true. Games worth the money, more so than many other RPGs coming out. But I find myself preferring older games, even objectively crappier ones.

    Realize I haven’t actually been into video games that terribly long. I started with Lloyd Alexander, CS Lewis, Arthur Ransome, Tolkien (of course), etc. then got into D&D, then played a couple of Mario and Zelda games on the N64, and only then started playing proper RPGs on the computer. First I ever played was BG2, and I loved it.

    I was introduced to fiction, fantasy in particular, in media in which graphics were sparse or nonexistent. In the Baldur’s Gate games, the graphics really weren’t much more important than in tabletop. The NPC’s had character portraits and the occasional line to remind you what they looked like and how they sounded, but the games were a success because of the game mechanics and the writing. They’re convenient to use, easy to understand, and allow a great deal of flexibility in combat (true, they weren’t terribly interactive, but when I was playing it was never enough of a problem to break my immersion). More importantly, though, they told a story, told it well, and told it in a manner which mas very similar to the means (books and tabletop) by which I had been introduced to the genre (fiction, not computer games).

    Newer RPGs don’t quite feel like RPGs to me. The way you see your characters in KOTOR or ME or DA reminds me more of Mario and Zelda, which was how I was introduced to video games, than of books, tabletop, or even BG, which was how I was introduced to fiction.

    Then again, perhaps part of it is that they feel new. A big part of the appeal which fantasy holds for me is its feeling of age. By the time I started playing D&D, it had already been around for some time. Few things excite me like the sight or smell of the yellowed pages of an old book. Even Baldur’s Gate had been out a while when I first played it, and it’s whole aesthetic seemed designed to evoke the feeling of oldness and longevity. I even prefer the old grey minesweeper to the one that came with vista. I LIKE mediocre graphics. Give it 10 yrs, enough time for current styles to seem out-of-date, and I’d be willing to bet that I’ll look much more kindly on today’s games. Kewlnewness is all very well, but it’s not my style.

    The obsession with “gritty, dark, consequences” doesn’t help either. Seems to me stories used to just have dark times and prices to pay without constantly harping on it and throwing in a few spouts of blood to make it seem Xtreme. Not a huge issue (none of these are, really), just something that bugs me a little.

    Again, let me say that I in no way mean that recent Bioware games aren’t very good, or even that they are necessarily inferior to the older ones. This is just why it seems to me likely that I maintain a preference for older, simpler graphics, as well as the older style of game mechanics. I’m enjoying, for instance, Might&Magic 6 (which I’m now playing through for the first time) more than I did Oblivion and nearly as much as I did Dragon Age.

    One last pet peeve to wrap up. In Baldur’s Gate, your party travelled with you. Sure, the party limit was a little immersion breaking, but you always had your whole group with you when facing down the bad guys. Since NWN, Bioware’s only let you take 2-3 with you at a given time and the rest just cool their heels back at the base. Blast it all, if I had fewer than a dozen companions to face all the Darkspawn/Sith/Shadow Creatures/Minion#3 in the world, I’d make sure every single one of them was earning their bloody keep!