Many of us have played the Baldurs Gate games, and had the time of our life playing them. The games were developed painstakingly by BioWare entertainment, a Canadian-based software development company. Here is an excerpt of an interview I had with Ray Muzyka(company leader at BioWare) while at the USNGC. We're old friends, having met during our medical careers (yes, both he and Greg Zeschuk were doctors :p) and he decided to give me, and by extension pog.com, an interview. He's a truly great guy, one of the best, as I think this interview shows:
Occy: So Ray, do you still have the time to run a regular medical practise at all?
Dr. Ray Muzyka: I still practice occasionally, but it is harder and harder to find the time to practice medicine now. Last time I did so was in the summer, when I did a two week locum in a small town a ways away from Edmonton. (A locum is where you fill in for another doctor for a period). Re: calling me Dr. Ray - most people call me just Ray, but if you choose to call me Dr. Ray, that's fine as well. (Side trip: One fellow in my medical school class used to say "You can call me whatever you like, just don't call me late for dinner!" Not sure if that's applicable here or not(laughter)
Occy: Of all the titles you guys have completed, which one is your sentimental favorite? Do you have a favorite character?
Dr. Ray Muzyka: I could think of two answers here: on the one hand, I think that every game that we complete in the future will be better still than the games we have released in the past, so in some ways I hope that the sentimental favorite has still not yet been released. On the other hand, based on games that we have actually released, the sentimental favorite has to be Shattered Steel. It was our first game after all! Each game has a special place; actually, largely because of the great people we get to work with here at BioWare on a daily basis. My favorite character would likely be Minsc from Baldur's Gate and Baldur's Gate II. You've gotta like Boo, his hamster. In fac, there was a site that dedicated a few anime-style cartoons to Boo, you can find one of them at this URL I have on my computer here:
Occy: Can't say I'd disagree with you there Ray. You guys(at BioWare) got quite a coup when you were able to do Baldur's Gate and develop in the Forgotten Realms universe. Was there a bit of frustration when you had to stop production on your unique RPG world and pick up the AD&D version?
Dr. Ray Muzyka: No, not at all. Working on an AD&D game was (and is!) a huge thrill and a great honor. We felt very fortunate to be working on this license and with our publisher, Black Isle/Interplay-- they're very good people to work with, as are the AD&D license holders at TSR/WOTC. We're looking forward to making more games in the Baldur's Gate line as well as releasing our upcoming Neverwinter Nights.
Occy: The obvious question now on many peoples' minds, is did you play AD&D as a kid or any of the RPGs that have pen & paper roots?
Dr. Ray Muzyka: Definitely! My favorite character was a mage named Daeorn (aka Davaeorn). (Occy- Davaeorn is one of the villain NPCs in Baldur's Gate)
Occy: Along those same lines, what intrigued BioWare about doing a Star Wars game? Any closet Darth Vaders at the office?
Dr. Ray Muzyka: You bet. We're huge fans of Star Wars. It was a great honor to be chosen to be the first developer of a Star Wars RPG and to be able to work with Lucas Arts. We're all huge fans of their adventure games, aren't we- that's where a lot of PC gamers started out(sniggering). That's not a plug by the way(raucous laughter from all)
Occy: What type of games do you like to play and on what platforms? How would you rate your game skills, l33t or llama?
Dr. Ray Muzyka: I like role-playing games, action games, and real-time strategy games. I like both PC and console, but most of my favorite games of the past are from the PC side. Some favorites from the past include: System Shock (PC), Ultima Underworld (PC), Fallout (PC), Betrayal at Krondor (PC), Wizardry (Apple), Wasteland (Apple), Metal Gear Solid (PSX), Zelda (N64), Warcraft II (PC), Starcraft (PC), Dune II (PC), Doom (PC), Quake II (PC), Half-Life (PC), Zelda (Gameboy Color), Final Fantasy VII (PSX), Soul Calibre (Dreamcast), and Deus Ex (PC).
Occy: Can't say those choices suprise me Ray, they're the games most medics our age nearly squandered their exams on
Dr. Ray Muzyka: (Laughing) Oh, yes. Greg and me used to go through hell trying to complete the FF and Ultima games, while simultaneously getting to grips with anatomy. I'm sure you and Mark did the same, it certainly seemed more fun in those days.
Occy: I understand you are working toward your MBA. Where on Earth do you find the time Ray?
Dr. Ray Muzyka: It's difficult, actually. I'm doing an executive MBA from Ivey, which is regarded as one of the best schools. The MBA involves considerable travel, and video conferencing on weekends. In a typical week, I spend about 10-20 hours a week on my MBA and about 60-80 hours per week working at BioWare. If I wasn't doing my MBA, the hours spent at BioWare would likely increase. I experienced that this summer when I had a break from my MBA for a couple months. From my experience, it seems like the amount of work you have to do increases directly with the amount of time you have to do it.
Occy: You are stranded on a desert island that, amazingly enough, has an electrical outlet for your computer. What one computer game would you want to have and why?
Dr. Ray Muzyka: Deus Ex, because I want to see how the bloody thing ends. World Domination has to figure into it at some stage, though I'm anxious to avoid dreadlocked protesters.(Laughter)
Occy: Who has been the most influential person in your career (Careful Ray: Greg picked you, said with an ominous smile)
Dr. Ray Muzyka: Well, ahem--after Greg of course--probably Dan (Walker), who was the person we dedicated Baldur's Gate II to. He was the second employee of BioWare and he passed away last year from natural causes related to a physical disability he had had since birth. You two knew each other well I believe, he was the nicest guy you could meet.
Occy: Many have said the same about yourself Ray, if not Greg(:p) If you could change one thing in the industry right now, what would it be? And do you give any credence to those decrying violence in games?
Dr. Ray Muzyka: People can be a bit overgenerous when speaking to the man behind one of their favorite games(Laughter).
Re: violence- Not sure if I would change anything in particular in the industry, actually.
I think that violence in video games is an important issue, but that there are many more pressing issues that should be focused on by politicians and press as well--for example: poverty, lack of education, child abuse, over-accessibility to guns and weapons, and over-exposure to violence on television and in the mainstream press, to name a few. It's easy to hijack the violence debate into computer games, and is done a bit too often in my humble opinion. But then I would say that, wouldn't I now(:)
Occy: Where do you see yourself 5-10 years from now? Where do you think the industry will be?
Dr. Ray Muzyka:Hopefully we'll still be making great games, each one better than the one before. Hopefully the industry will be making great games as well, because I want to be playing video games when I go home as well :)
Occy: Thanks for your time Ray, take care.
Ray: You too Govind, enjoy the USN and don't work too hard.
Well, there you have it folks. Hope that shed a bit of light on the legend of Ray Muzkya and BioWare :)