We talk to Beamdog about Siege of Dragonspear for mobile, classic D&D RPGs, and why a level editor won't be coming any time soon
Siege of Dragonspear is available right now on the App Store. It's a stand-alone game that fills some of the story gaps between Baldur's Gate and Baldur's Gate 2. It's also the first bit of official new content for the series in more than a decade.
We took the chance to ask the game's Lead Designer, and the Studio Head at Beamdog, Phillip Daigle some questions about his experience working on the game, the controversy that surrounded its original release on PC, and how more people than ever are enjoying strategic D and D RPGs.
148Apps: First up, could you tell me what Siege of Dragonspear is, and how it fits into the world of Baldur's Gate?
Philiip Daigle: Baldur's Gate: Siege of Dragonspear is an all-new adventure from Beamdog that fills the gap between Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition and Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition, allowing you to play through events that cast the player out of Baldur's Gate and into the waiting hands of Jon Irenicus, evil mage and Son'a cosplayer extraordinaire.
Sarevok, the villain of the first game, sought a war of sacrifice to prove his worth and become the new god of Murder - Bhaal reborn. You killed him, ending his schemes and becoming the hero of Baldur's Gate. But rumors have begun to swirl, suggesting that Sarevok and the player character share a common lineage and ultimately a common goal.
Meanwhile, turmoil is sweeping through the north - a mighty crusade led by an enigmatic woman known as "The Shining Lady" has seized control of Dragonspear Castle and menaces both Waterdeep and Baldur's Gate.
You are tasked with accompanying a host of soldiers to confront this threat, and hopefully your absence from the city will allow cooler heads to prevail.
You can export your character from Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition into Siege of Dragonspear, and at the end of the adventure you can export from Siege to Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition.
What was it like working on the first piece of new content for Baldur's Gate in over a decade?
It was exciting, frightening, fun, and dangerous.
During the development of Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition and Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition we had spun up some content teams for building small-scale Infinity Engine adventures, but Siege of Dragonspear was far beyond anything we had attempted before.
Not only were we trying to build a solid design team from almost the ground up, but we were also trying to build a solid design team that could produce retro-style games where the graphics are sometimes intentionally made worse in order to match the style of the rest of the game.
And on top of that we were adding onto a beloved, complex story with hundreds of thousands of dedicated fans that would crucify us if we trampled on it. Not only did the story have to flow with the existing narrative but it also needs to expand things in a meaningful way. It felt roughly as daunting as adding a new book to the Bible.
While a lot of people grew up with D&D RPGs, do you think the market has changed to favour more action-orientated experiences in the past few years?
Yes. Proportionally there is a larger audience for more action-oriented D&D games than there is for more deliberate, strategic D&D games. But the audience for those classic D&D game experience has still grown significantly from back in the day. A shocking number of teens and young adults are picking up Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition.
This reflects the industry as a whole, and there's obviously room for both kinds of games, but an action game is easier to get funded and easier to communicate to a potential audience than something with deep rules and mechanics designed for a slower pace of play.
What's been the most difficult part of porting the game over to mobile?
Performance issues. I made some, lets say "questionable" calls regarding the size of battles and crowd scenes in the original game which murdered the performance of the game on lower end tablets. As such we had to increase the minimum requirements for the game.
You can blame this one 100% on me. Send all hate to @daigledopple on Twitter. But the crowds were so cool!
One of the great things about table top gaming and the communities involved in it has always been creating your own adventures. There's a lot of player-made software out there for the original games, is that something you've considered implementing for the Enhanced Editions and Siege of Dragonspear?
What you're describing is Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition! Neverwinter Nights was actually built as a direct response to how difficult and time-consuming it was to produce Infinity Engine content.
In that era there was a philosophy of "Why build a tool for something when we could throw an army of interns at it?", so building IE content ended up being extremely expensive based on how much work was done by hand. Rather than try to streamline content production in IE they decided to focus on heading off those problems in an all-new engine.
IE is still a bear to produce content for, and to make it easy to produce adventures within it would cost almost as much as just building a new implementation of IE in Unreal 4 or something similar.
Having played the game on my iPhone 7, I've found that the text is sometimes a little difficult to read. Is this a game you'd suggest people play on larger screen mobile devices?
I think all of the Infinity Engine games play better on larger screens because of the amount of written text. Tablet is the preferred platform for me, but on the iPhone 7 Plus and larger Android devices it's still an enjoyable experience.
There was some backlash about certain characters and storylines when Siege of Dragonspear initially came out for PC. Is that something you're expecting this time round?
Beamdog made missteps with the character Mizhena from a variety of perspectives, and we adjusted her accordingly in the latest update. It's likely that people who want to open up old wounds will find reasons to do so, but I believe that many of the contributing factors to the response Mizhena received when the game was initially released are no longer relevant.
One day, perhaps after I've been plied with alcohol, I'll show the ticket I filed for Mizhena before release that addressed many of the criticisms that were later levied at at her. Unfortunately, as with all game development, some tickets can't get dealt with in time for release and that was one of them.
Lastly, what's the one tip you'd give to someone starting out on their Siege of Dragonspear adventure?
Talk to everyone, explore every corner, and make sure you've only got a party of 5 before the final battle starts.