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Baldur’s Gate 3 PAX East Interview – Listening to Fan Feedback, Adding Raytracing


Following closely after the world premiere of Baldur's Gate 3 at PAX East 2020, we sat down to watch an hour-long preview of the opening act to Baldur's Gate 3. This was followed by a conversation with two team members at Larian Studios: Matt Holland, Combat Designer, and Adam Smith, Senior Writer.

Baldur's Gate 3 is tentatively coming out on PC (Steam) and Stadia in a couple of months, in an early access state. In a similar fashion to Divinity: Original Sin 2, only a relatively small portion of the game will be available, though Larian reckons it'll still be sizable.

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Larian's Matt Holland and Adam Smith chilling out with a mind flayer at PAX East 2020

I'm just going to come right out swinging. As you guys probably already know, while most folks have enjoyed the reveal [of Baldur's Gate 3], there's been a rather vocal portion of Baldur's Gate fans who didn't feel like this looked like a true sequel. What can you say to assuage their fears that this is actually a Divinity: Original Sin game in disguise?

Matt Holland: Well, there's a few things to that. At Larian, for a very long time, we've been trying to emulate a pen and paper experience and bring it to video games. I think it's just that. If people think it looks like Divinity, it's because we're trying to make that tabletop experience that D&D, well, is.

Adam Smith: It's a continuation of what we have been doing which is to move toward a tabletop experience in a cRPG. For the people who think that it doesn't quite look like they wanted it to look or doesn't quite feel like they hoped it would, then honestly, I would just say to see more of it. I think they'll be convinced pretty quickly. The deeper we go into it, the more and more they'll feel the D&D [influence] and how it's truly the heart of it. The more they see the systems and rule set, they'll start to see we are really using that ruleset. Some of the stuff that they recognize stayed in there because it makes sense in the world. The surfaces and the environmental interactions, we've built on them but it didn't make sense to drop them just because [Baldur's Gate 3] looked like Divinity because Divinity is really good as well. It's a continuation of that but it's D&D to its core lore wise and systems wise.

If this feedback remains after the game enters into early access, would you be willing to improve some aspects to make it more visibly D&D-like?

Matt: We're always open to feedback and that's mainly why we're going into early access for but we'll always take it into consideration no matter what feedback we get.

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Adam: That's exactly it. The point of early access is so people can talk to us. There's a reason we didn't release a press release or make a statement saying 'oh by the way, our combat is turn-based'. We waited until we could show it to people so they could see it and they can get the impression of how it feels. Then, as soon as they start playing it, they'll have more impressions, more opinions. That's good, I mean that helps us because we like talking to them. We like hearing from them. I really don't think we have to do cause correction. When people start playing it, they will see that it feels very D&D. They'll get it.

In previous interviews, Swen [Vincke] has said that the goal was to innovate within the RPG genre and that Larian was taking a lot of creative risks with Baldur's Gate 3. Can you point us to some examples?

Matt: I think it's just the ones you just mentioned, right? We are making some changes to the Baldur's Gate formula to more fit the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons and really go in that direction. I guess that's one of the bigger risks.

Adam: We're also doing the cinematic dialogues that you just saw. We're doing that for custom characters. You can be different sizes, you can play as a gnome, we have to deal with that. A lot of games that use cinematics like this give you one set character. We're giving you five, more than five, but five that we show now, plus all the custom characters and we're doing cinematics for every single line of dialogue in the game. It's massive, like you know, it's a huge thing. When we made the decision to do that, creatively, the conversation was 'well, we can't compromise on the things that we do'. We're going to push to the next-gen ideas with our visuals that cannot compromise the freedom, cannot compromise multiplayer, can't compromise any of the openness. We're doing the game that has everything that you get from the traditional isometric and we're saying that you still have that game and Larian is adding more and more stuff into it. Creatively, that's really risky but it gives us this [Baldur's Gate 3].

In the gameplay reveal, we did see some environmental interactions such as a broken wall collapsed opening a passage into a lower level. Can we expect to see a lot more of that in the full game so that we can affect enemies as well as have some clever moves?

Matt: Yeah, absolutely. This is just the start of it. We're still working to just add more of these environmental interactions. The basic idea is that if you were to sit down and play a game of Dungeons and Dragons and talk to a DM, anything you might ask the DM to do, like shooting a rock held up by vines to drop onto bandits, we want to have that in there for you as well. It's really giving you the purest and best pen and paper experience. So yes, of course, we're going to keep on adding those interactions into the game.

Do you think that the time in early access will be comparable to that of Divinity: Original Sin 2?

Matt: Yeah, we try not to stay in early access for too long but obviously we don't know yet. We'll know more when early access actually hits.

We've seen a lot of critical misses that are a thing in Baldur's Gate 3. In D&D, you can drop your weapon when that happens. Is there going to be an actual penalty for getting a critical miss in combat?

Matt: Right now, we don't have any plans for that, I believe. It's just a miss.

Do you plan to activate the camera zoom for misses, or just for critical hits?

Matt: We're playing around with that right now (how much the combat camera gets used). We don't want it to be overbearing so every single shot is pulling the camera away from you. Right now we're just using it to highlight but maybe we can change that. We don't know.

Is multi-classing going to be possible in Baldur's Gate 3?

Adam: We're not talking about it yet. The classes that we're showing today are the only ones we're talking about but there is a lot more to come.

Do you have a level cap in mind?

Adam: I can't tell you what it is, but we do!

Can you guys discuss the Stadia specific features?

Matt: I'm not sure what they are right now. There's certain interactivity.

Adam: We talked about it on the live stream. There's going to be ways that people who are watching you can interact with you. Something to do with being able to vote on things. We're also talking about letting [the audience] actually manipulate rolls, so your audience will be able to mess around with you a little bit.

In a new interview that's pretty much been posted everywhere, it stated that Baldur's Gate 3 couldn't run on current-gen consoles. Do you agree with this assessment? And if so, what makes it so much heavier than Original Sin 2?

Adam: This was David and Eurogamer. We don't do the tool stuff, so we don't know. Basically, the answer to that, the really honest answer to that is we want to be in front of as many people as possible. When we talk about platforms, if people are playing on them and we can port the game on them, we want to be on them. There's a lot of conversations around that, obviously, and I just honestly don't know. If we can be on something, we want to be on it. That won't mean we necessarily will be, but we want to be.

Yeah, we saw such a mechanically dense game as Original Sin 2 make its way onto the Nintendo Switch.

Adam: Yeah and that porting process was amazing. What they achieved in that was incredible. There was a point when I remember we were talking to [Blitworks] and we were like 'we don't know if this is possible' and they just came back to us and they were like 'we did it'. I mean, that's magic to me. That's actually magic. I don't get it.

In your personal opinion, what do you guys think of the next generation of consoles?

Adam: I just want more games. The platform is less important to me than games, so if there's good games, I'll go to them. New tech is always exciting. And actually, I also really enjoy and this is really nerdy, but I like getting new consoles because I like seeing the UIs and new operating systems and just seeing what they do. There's a discovery process every time there's a new generation and I really enjoy that.

Just look at the Nintendo DS and all of the cool extra things beyond just putting a game in and play, you know?

Adam: Yeah, and the Nintendo Switch. There's a point where I suddenly was on a plane one time and I looked around and my friends are all playing on Switch now. They're playing games that I play at home and I didn't have a Switch at that point. I was like, now I want one because it just didn't connect for me, that thing of like, I can play games that I used to have to sit down and play. Mobile gaming felt like it just moved to tablets and smartphones to me and then it was like 'no, no, this is a console that you can just carry around in your pocket now'. It's crazy.

Matt: Probably the same for me. I just like playing the games so if there's cool games on the console, I'll pick one up. I'm intrigued to see where the next console generation takes us.

Did you consider using technologies like ray tracing for the updated Baldur's Gate 3 engine?

Adam: For the full launch, indeed. There's a lot of stuff that we're still working on.

During the original Divinity: Original Sin crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, the very last stretch goal mentioned a day and night cycle, NPC schedules and weather systems. All of these could have impacted NPCs, monsters and magic. Do you still discuss the possibility of making a truly simulated game world at some point in the future?

Adam: I do in my own head constantly. I think it's a very different game. One of my favorite games of all time is Ultima Seven and it was the first game that I played that had proper NPC behaviors. You could wait for someone to go to the pub and then you could rob their shop. I love stuff like that, but a game that's built like that does very different things. We are very, very story focused as well and there's things that you lose. Also: multiplayer. We're a multiplayer game and day-night cycles in multiplayer becomes incredibly complicated. We're doing so many really complex things already that we know are going to be really good that, on top of that, it wouldn't fit this game.

I love simulated worlds and we have a lot of that stuff in there. We don't do the day-night cycle but we do the things where things in the world happen because you caused them to happen and they can happen off-screen. So, there are things happening off-screen. The world isn't just what you see on your screen. There are events that happen and things that will, because of the choices you've made, things will happen elsewhere. Those are real, those are systemic. Our systems are running in the background the whole time. There are incredibly deep systems. Some of them don't make sense for this game, but yeah, we think about it and we've talked about it.

On that same note, do you think the much more powerful next-gen hardware can allow for these more complex AI routines?

Matt: I don't think it's hardware that's bottlenecking it. It's more of the amount of manpower to basically create all these scripting scenarios and then all the edge cases that result from those that will now affect dialogues and basic world states. That's a lot of work, especially for a game as complex and systemic as ours, and the work becomes exponential.

Adam: Yeah. There's also a point that sometimes things can seem really cool but they're not necessarily fun. When you have so many systems overlapping each other, some of them stop the other ones from being as fun. I think it's more about ideas and making sure you choose the right ideas and choose to implement them intelligently and in ways that are enjoyable than necessarily hardware bottlenecks.

The Baldur's Gate community noted that the NPC Volo is quite a bit different from the Fifth Edition illustrations. Why is that?

Adam: I'm not sure if his visual is final anyway, but we do have freedom. Anything that is canonical to D&D, we stick true to, but in terms of things like visualization of a specific character, we are our own campaign. We're the DMs of this campaign, so we are incredibly true to the lore and incredibly true to the history. The amount of reading I've done to make sure everything is correct and fits in is crazy. But, in terms of slight visuals, then, you know, there's leeway there. There's things we can change and things we can adjust, but it may not be final. I always have the Volo image of him standing with his foot on a create, that's the one that always pops into my head.

You mentioned being a DM earlier. Are there any plans for a Dungeon Master mode in Baldur's Gate 3?

Matt: Right now, we're just focusing on the main game. Not counting it out but we don't have anything to say about it.

Is everything going to be handcrafted in Baldur's Gate 3, or will there be some kind of procedurally generated encounters later on down the line?

Matt: As far as I know, everything's hand placed. All of the encounters are set up manually by us. You're talking specifically about combat, right? In that case, it's all completely hand placed by us. There's no level scaling or anything like that. As far as I know, we're not doing any generated encounters now.

Thank you two very much for your time.