Baldur’s Gate
AD&D tiptoes into real-time
by Cindy Yans
Interplay
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ioware’s Dr. Ray Muzyka (joint CEO and one of the big three docs of the corporation) is responsible for their Forgotten Realms division. He avidly expects their upcoming RPG, Baldur’s Gate, to offer the best role-playing experience in a D&D environment ever to hit the small screen.

Muzyka is no stranger to RPGs. He’s played many, his favorites being Wizardry, Wasteland, Ultima IV and V, Ultima Underworld, System Shock, and Betrayal at Krondor; and he has tried to incorporate the best features of these into the design of Baldur’s Gate (Krondor and Wasteland especially). He considers the most important factors to be a strong storyline and ease of gameplay.

“The basic story involves the regions around the cities of Baldur's Gate and Amn. These cities are embroiled in nefarious intrigue that endangers the entire Sword coast and may precipitate a war. Merchants are being attacked, especially if they happen to be dealing in the iron trade; the Zhentarim are being implicated and the Harpers are being forced to take action against this uprising by some force of evil. If the player’s character is for the common good, he or she will need to unravel the stratagem behind this struggle for power, and to prevent the war which threatens to engulf the region – or, if not, the goal is to try and assume more power in the process...To say much more might spoil the game.”
If well realized, the plot will encompass a richness far superior to many RPGs and certainly to pseudo-RPGs such as Diablo, which Muzyka admires for its beauty, but wants to offer more.

So what is more? We should expect a much wider variety of choices and actions than is usual, all in real time and including some very sophisticated AI. A party of up to eight characters with many specialties is managed through an easy-to-use graphical scripting language. Characters are either pre-scripted, or the player may fully or partially edit scripts for the NPCs. TSR’s D&D guidelines are ever present, but more versatility will be apparent in the characters’ interactions with one another. Some characters will interact amicably, others might squabble and put “kick me” signs on each other’s backs. You will be able to edit how each character will react to specific types of opponents.

Although one might feel that a real-time environment is directly inverse to the classic world of AD&D, the designers believe that the flavor of the original game is maintained while its computer playability is enhanced. Balance is kept via an individual “initiative combat round” (significantly shorter than in the pen and paper game), allowing for action to occur simultaneously while adhering to the rule-set. Also present is the universal “you can turn down the speed so that it seems like turn-based” encouragement to opponents of real-time. Will purists be assuaged? Also, No DMs were harmed in the production of this feature.

As in any game having a storyline, a beginning and an end, true non-linearity is impossible, but in this case careful attention has been paid to providing as open-ended an experience as possible. We will see an episodic game filled with sub-quests, the outcome of which will often be determined by choices the player makes in the course of each chapter. The player will have a reputation to which others in the game will react, and his or her own choices will be effected by previous behavior. Solutions to various problems can be solved according to the player’s own methods based on character type or particular strengths – brute force, intelligence, magic or animal husbandry.

As is almost inevitable these days, Baldur’s Gate is jumping on the multiplayer bandwagon. The multiplayer game is going to be like a MUD, with hundreds of players interacting in the same world as in the single player game. In the multiplayer world, sub-quests will be updated on a regular basis to add diversity and longevity to on-line activity.

The graphics are non-tiled, fully-pre-rendered 16 bit color with a top down third person isometric view. The natural lighting effects are gorgeous and the world immense, with over 10,000 individual locations and a map that enables you to return instantly to any place you’ve already visited. The design team is concurrently developing editing tools; back to back sequels are expected to follow quickly as are mission-expansion packs. Baldur’s Gate will bring your character to level six, and the next two installments will increase the level by six apiece (in true AD&D range).

Expected in fourth quarter 1997 from Interplay, Baldur’s Gate is something on which you might want to place a wager. Throw down a few bucks across the board. This title could rock.
©1997 Strategy Plus, Inc.