Interview with Bioware's Ray Muzyka
Some thoughts from the primary designer of Baldur's Gate
Posted on 01/20/1999
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Shot One Is this the haunting figure of your dreams?
Surprising to many, not so surprising to some, Baldur's Gate has been selling off the shelf these days, and has become the most talked about role-playing game of the moment. We caught up with Dr. Ray Muzyka, the main man behind Baldur's Gate, and he was able to share with us some of his thoughts about some undocumented issues in what has proven to be last year's last minute bid for RPG of the Year.

CG Online: Some folks in our forums have been discussing the relationship between reputation and alignment, saying that it is "muddily" handled in Baldur's Gate. What are your thoughts about the relationship? Should an evil character's reputation go up when he does evil deeds?

Muzyka: Well, we implemented a reputation system which is linked to alignment of the primary character. Hence, if your party performs evil deeds, your party reputation falls as the main character's alignment slowly shifts towards evil. And vice versa for good characters. This means that characters which have to be of good alignments, such as Paladins or Rangers, will lose their special abilities once their reputations fall beyond a certain point.

CG Online: And speaking of good and evil, it seems as though the game was designed to be played primarily as a doer of good. Most of the side-quests seem to be "good ones." It is possible for an evil character to get as fully rewarding a gaming experience?

Shot Two Ambushed by Hobgoblins
Muzyka: I think it is, at least based on the experiences of the people in our office, many of whom played through the game a second time as an evil party—not a psychotic party, mind you, but rather as mildly evil party. The first doesn't work, but the second does. The game is primarily balanced towards a good party, but players are not limited solely to that approach. Certainly, we had restrictions on how the good versus evil system worked. Part of this came from TSR and their Code of Ethics, which limits the rewards that playing an evil party can bring. Essentially a balanced approach was called for; any evil or chaotic actions will have consequences in the world. Playing a frankly psychotic character—one who walks around killing people at random—is not condoned by ANY society, so it makes sense that a party with a reputation of 1 or 2 be hunted down by bounty hunters and guards at every turn. There are advantages and disadvantages to role playing an evil party, just as there are for a good party. I'm not sure if the quests are necessarily "good" or "evil. Many are simply requests by different people to do certain things. If doing something for someone else is evil, then there aren't many quests that we could have included. If you choose to ask for more reward money, or to decline quests without a material reward at the end, then you're role-playing a (mildly) evil party, which we do allow.

CG Online: Will we find the Tarrasque in Baldur's Gate? What should we know about it?

Muzyka: No...that monster is far too powerful for the level of characters in this game.

CG Online: Have you ever considered, or would you consider allowing the player character(s) to take advantage of an NPC party member's spell book? For instance, it would seem "reasonable" that party members could learn spells from one another.
Shot Three Kobolds to the left of you, kobolds to the right of you volleyed and thundered
Muzyka: True, but this would take weeks of study according to the AD&D rules. The game has certain technical (and balance) limitations and this would not be possible within the balance that we set up.

CG Online: In the expansion sets, will the previous status of NPCs come into play? For instance, if someone is able to kill Drizzt, what happens with this character in the next version?

Muzyka: Maybe Drizz't's friends would have found a way to bring him back, and he'd probably be upset at that particular character. Rather upset...

CG Online: We've found that you are able to buy extraordinary amounts of reputation points, allowing you to do as much evil as you like and still maintain a good reputation. Is there a cap on buyable reputation points allowable?

Muzyka: No, there isn't at present. But that's a good idea.

CG Online: The pathfinding in the beta version of the game was abysmal, and the final version suffers from rather weak pathfinding as well. The patch improves it somewhat, but are you still working on refining the pathfinding system? How?

Shot Four Sorceress Sundries in the city of Baldur's Gate
Muzyka: The patch should improve pathfinding a fair amount, as you can increase the number of nodes in the search grid by a considerable amount, limited only really by your processor speed. The areas in the game are large, complex, and involved, so we did the best we could with pathfinding. I personally have played every major RTS game of the past few years and I can attest that Baldur's Gate's pathfinding is at least comparable to any pathfinding I have ever seen before—particularly in light of the complexity of the areas in BG and the number of characters and monsters that are involved. Certainly we'll continue to look at new approaches for pathfinding—we researched all the known major pathfinding algorithms through an exhaustive literature review over a period of several months while we developed Baldur's Gate. It all comes down to a balance between game speed hits versus more efficient search algorithms. On the min spec machine for BG, the pathfinding algorithm currently in use will not cause a major performance drop (unless you increase the number of pathfinding nodes considerably). If our min spec machine was a PII 450, then we could try other approaches...I suggest using waypoints (i.e. Left clicks with Shift held down) if people want even more precise pathfinding, particularly in the tighter dungeons.

CG Online: Some multiplayer problems have been reported, and a possible multiplayer patch has been hinted at. What problems have you heard about, and what is the team doing to address them?

Shot Five Wyverns are particularly nasty creatures
Muzyka: The only multiplayer issues that we are planning to patch relate to a few dropped messages and random crashes—a list of them is included on the patch site (where the beta patch is currently posted).As for the multiplayer game pausing during dialog or during purchases, which many people have mentioned, this is something that we will be looking at for the sequel. Since dialog and purchases are modal (i.e. the game pauses during these actions in the single-player game) the same approach has to be taken in multiplayer. The issue isn't simple. For example, if the game didn't pause in dialog mode, what would happen if another player killed the person being talked to? What if that NPC was a game critical NPC? Since there is no way to deal with all of the outcomes, we decided that the best approach was to assume that the gameplay was cooperative between players, and show the dialog to all people in the game whenever it starts up. This is important in that it ensures that all people in the party are aware of what is going on with the storyline. Playing with immature people can be dealt with by the leader of the game by turning off their ability to initiate dialogue, or by banning them from the game. Our model was the pen and paper version of AD&D—essentially, a new paradigm—not the numerous other (competitive) multiplayer games that are currently available.

CG Online: Tell us as much as you can about the expansion pack. Is it on one disk? Will it encompass the equivalent of perhaps one new chapter? Will you be able to gain any levels in the expansion pack, or will there just be some interesting items to be gained?

Shot Six The dock of the bay
Muzyka: The expansion will be detailed shortly on a new webpage off of the Interplay site, but I'll give a few advance bits of info.…There are two main new areas in the mission pack — a mysterious island off of the coast and an imposing structure known as Durlag's Tower. The mission pack is about 1/10 of the size of the main game (about 8 new large areas in total size), and will allow players' characters to continue to proceed along in levels (about 1-2 new levels gained) and abilities. There will be new monsters to fight, new quests to solve, and new spells to learn, plus new items to acquire.…

CG Online: Talk a little about how difficult was it to structure the plot given the amazing variety of characters/alignments/path choices?

Muzyka: We tried to set up the game to be as non-linear as possible within the context of a linear storyline. The way we did this was to break the story apart into chapters—seven of them—and allow players to complete any subquests that they wanted, in any order, within the various chapters. We used a branching dialogue tree approach to dialogue, which allows players some choice in their responses while still keeping the number of replies to a manageable level.

CG Online: For future titles, will there be A3D 2.0 support (or do you own too much Creative Labs stock?)

Muzyka: Certainly we think that the A3D sound model is a great one (as is EAX, which we added support for in Baldur's Gate), and we are interested in supporting all of the audio standards in our future projects.

CG Online: Will the sequel be 3D accelerated?

Muzyka: This is something that we are considering, but we haven't locked down the feasibility or timeframe for inclusion of 3D support as of yet.

CG Online: Thanks, Ray, and from what we've seen so far, we're waiting with bated breath for more!

by Cindy Yans

©1999 Strategy Plus, Inc.

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