Larian Studios is a development team that has earned the respect of role-playing games fans over the years with the Divinity series. The team is not only working on the next entry in the series, Divinity: Fallen Heroes, but also on a game that many have been waiting for years, Baldur's Gate 3.
During E3 2019, we had the chance to talk with studio founder Swen Vincke about the two upcoming games as well as about subscription services, Google Stadia, and next-generation consoles. (Interview has been edited for clarity)
Q: Divinity: Original Sin 2 has been received extremely well. How did you feel like when you saw such a great reception?
A: Up to the last minute we didn't know if people would like the game. Then you get to the moment when you have to release the game and you wonder if people are going to be happy enough now because there was an early access version, but at some point, you have to pull the trigger. So I was very relieved, I was relieved to see the critical acclaim, I was relieved to see the sales because we risked a lot to make Original Sin 2 as good as possible.
Q: Before jumping to Baldur's Gate 3, let's talk about Divinity: Fallen Heroes. Now that you are working on Baldur's Gate 3 as well, is that going on hold?
A: We're not putting it on hold because it's being made by an external team, Logic Artists from Denmark. They are working on it fully and we're just looking at the milestones and giving them advice. We are involved and we have people checking out how they are incorporating elements from the other games but it's really their game. They're making it.
Q: Fallen Heroes' battle system is very similar to the one seen in Original Sin 2...
A: Yeah, except that it's switched to team-based initiative. And they changed quite a lot of stuff so that it would become more tactical, it plays differently than Original Sin 2. To be honest, I think the combat is actually better.
Q: Is it going to feature any multiplayer mode or other features like Game Master mode?
A: Fallen Heroes is a tactics game, it's like Dragon Commander meets Divinity Original Sin. Its focus is on strategy and the combat system. In the game, you have a hub where you meet characters, you make decisions, you upgrade your troops, your veterans, your heroes. You buy stuff, artifacts, so it's a different type of game that doesn't leave much space for these features.
Q: Let's jump to Baldur's Gate 3. How did it happen?
A: After Original Sin was done, I flew to Seattle and I talked to the people from Wizards of the Coast. I was afraid we wouldn't get the license, and I was scared. But we had a long conversation with them as well with Nathan Stewart, who's like the head of Dungeons and Dragons. And they explained what we would have to do if we got the license. And apparently some of that stuck, because a couple of years later, he called me and told me that I had to fly to Seattle. We had dinner and he had a big PowerPoint that he printed out. And on that PowerPoint, many of the things that we talked about were present. And so he said:" Do you still want to do it?" I said, yes, I still want to do it! He says, Well, I'll present it to my board, and ask them if they're willing to do it with you, and then negotiate it a bit. And then we had an agreement. That's how we started working.
Q: I'm sure you're feeling a bit of pressure, as the game has been a very long time coming...
A: I try not to think of the pressure. I think we know what we want to make. We too have been waiting for this game for a long time. So we wanted to make the game that it deserves to be. But like with every game that we make, we just try to do the thing that we think is going to be good. And then we'll see what happens.
Q: Original Sin 2 has very humorous writing which works well in the context of the game. For Baldur's Gate 3, are you getting influenced by the work you have done so far or are you going to go into a completely different direction?
A. Baldur's Gate 3 is a different world than the one of Divinity, because of Dungeons and Dragons. The world of Divinity: Original Sin 2 world is big so there are a lot of serious things in there, but also, there was humor. This is the same in Baldur's Gate 1 and 2. It was not all serious, you know, there was also fun to be had. So you should expect something similar.
Q: On the subject of gameplay, is it going to be influenced by Original Sin or are you trying to make something that's closer to the original Baldur's Gate games?
A: We are moving forward, so we don't want to go look backward. We want to innovate within the RPG genre and we have a bunch of ideas. We took the D&D fifth edition ruleset, we ported it to video game format, and we saw the things that didn't work. So we started working on that. And then we also added systems that would replace the game master because there's no human sitting inside of your computer. And that allows you to do things that you would otherwise not be able to do. And so that is pretty much the approach that we've taken. All the core values that were important to us in Original Sin, like the fact that the game reacts to what you did and that the story would change in a logical way are still in, except that we are doing more.
Q: Regarding classes, are you going to strictly include only what D&D features or do you have the freedom to do something a bit more unique?
A: When you start the game, we want you to feel that you're playing Dungeon and Dragons. So it has to feel familiar, you have to be able to pick the race and class you like. We do have the freedom to do what we like, but there's already a lot in D&D that's been added over the years and a lot of this is going to be in there.
Q: How will multiplayer work in Baldur's Gate 3?
A: Multiplayer will be evolving with what we learned from Original Sin 2. The party will be a very big focus this time, like in the Original Sin games, but everything will be enhanced. Multiplayer is something that I don't think we've done as well as we could have in Original Sin. So that's something that we'd like to evolve.
Q: Next generation consoles are coming soon. There's a lot we still don't know about them, but we do know that both the Xbox Scarlett and the PlayStation 5 are changing the ways games load with the inclusion of SSD drives. How is this going to improve RPGs in your opinion?
A: To be fair, people have SSDs in their PCs already, so it's not that much of a revolution. Streaming is a very important technology for modern games, so the faster you can stream your data, you can put more of it, and you're going to have higher quality assets, which is pretty much what everybody expects there to be. The big questions are going to be how much memory do you get to actually do that? Is there sufficient memory to fool around with? How much CPU power are we getting? Because that's also important, but it's the classic things that we see with every generation. I mean, how much GPU power do we get? But at the end of the day, it's always going to be more, it's going to be more detailed, it's going to allow us to do more accurate simulations.
I think that the more interesting question is how stuff like Google Stadia will change things. It gives developers something different. In the data center, these machines are connected to each other, and so you could start thinking of doing things like elastic rendering, like make a couple of servers together, to do physics simulations that may not be possible on current local hardware. I think you'll see a lot of evolution in this direction.
Q: Subscription services are becoming big. Microsoft has the Xbox Game Pass, EA has Origin/EA Access and now Ubisoft announced their uPlay Plus. Do you think this model could help smaller games to emerge?
A: When talking about subscription services, somebody reminded me of the scene in Star Wars where the Palpatine is about to rise to become the Emperor and then he says that this is how democracy ends. So I'm not really sure that subscription services are a good thing for the developers. They are good for players, as they initially give a wide range of games. But the problem is the same one many have with Netflix: for example, I started watching like a million series, but I don't see any to the end anymore. And if this is going to be the case for games as well, I don't think that it will be a good thing. The only ones that benefit from subscription services are the really the big blockbuster. So I'm not really sure if the small ones are going to be able to break through on the subscription services, because we will be super dependent on the provider of the subscription service and what he puts on the front page, so I don't think it's a good idea at all that power is given to only a few key players.
Q: In this regard, maybe the Epic Games Store may help. I have seen a couple of titles on there that have been marketed well.
A: It's a marketplace. There are lots of stores and this has always been the case, even in retail. So you can talk to certain stores to put your game in a more prominent position, it's a free market with where marketing matters to make things visual. And so having more stores is a good thing, provided that the conditions at which you can sell it on them are fair to everyone.
So I think that if there are more stores there is a higher chance that more people can break through as there are different propositions on different stores and this kind of differentiation is not necessarily bad, because it's like stores on the street where you go to a specialized shop. This is the biggest difference with subscription services, as the revenue that you get is based on the time the game gets played. If you make a game that last two hours and only a small part of it gets played, you don't get anything in terms of revenue.
Thank you for your time!