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Luke Kristjanson
Senior Writer, Dragon Age: Origins
Writer, Baldur's Gate

Ten years? Well now I feel old. Over 12 since I signed on. I was writer zero, the one hired to start it off. Also the one to blame if you didn't like Jaheira. What was it like at the time?

Imoen's popularity was a surprise, mostly because she didn't exist. What's that mean? Her character was a late addition to fill a non-psychotic-thief gap in the early levels.
Me: "How do we do this so it really feels like kitchen table D&D?"
Not me: "I don't know, how do you want to do it?"
Me: "Seriously? I get to answer that?"
Not me: "Why not? You gonna eat that 27th kind of pizza we brought in for the sixth month running?"
Me: "No."

Some parts of BG seem simple now, and many perceived character relationships were outright imaginary. The players imposed their own perceptions on those tiny sprites and unrecorded text. One forum member didn't realize that you could drag the character portraits to reorder the party. He slip-clicked out of inventory and accidentally swapped Minsc into top position, triggering a sound event: "Magic is impressive, but now Minsc leads! Swords for everyone!" He thought Minsc had spontaneously seized control of the party. Well, he had spent too much time on magic and not enough on kicking evil in the face, so it seemed reasonable. And it would have been awesome.

In an early playthrough, I swore Viconia's magic resistance blocked every beneficial spell I threw at her except healing from Ajantis. They had a whole "forbidden attraction" thing going on, it was so obvious. But I knew the back end. Nothing.

Imoen's popularity was a surprise, mostly because she didn't exist. What's that mean? Her character was a late addition to fill a non-psychotic-thief gap in the early levels. We had no recording budget left, so I assembled her lines by editing voice-over left from a scrapped demo. The original character was a guard named Pique. That's why she has no standalone confrontations / interactions with other party members, which makes her relationship to the player seem closer, and led to making her a half-sister in BG II. Make enough happen, and people see their own patterns. Blunt force content.

How far has Dragon Age taken character and writing? Every party character can have a critical effect on the story. A late addition like Imoen would seem as integrated as a paper cutout taped to your monitor. With full quality voice and cinematic visuals, the characters provide a huge array of responses in no uncertain terms. There is a weave of possible interactions that (appropriately) dwarfs anything we attempted in Baldur's Gate. Or Shadows of Amn, for that matter.

And like Baldur's Gate, this is also a beginning. There are tips of the hat to those bygone days, but as much as we were puzzling through something new with it, we're puzzling our way through something new with Dragon Age: Origins. Some of it feels like the gaming equivalent of comfort food, and some will leave you stunned. It's a setting that has amazing potential, and I can't wait to figure out where it's headed.

Dragon Age -3
 

Mark Darrah
Producer, Dragon Age: Origins
Programmer, Baldur's Gate

I've been asked to write down some of my memories of working on the original Baldur's Gate.

A lot of what BioWare was 10 years ago still shines through in the values of the company today. A focus on the quality of the product but without a willingness to destroy people to get there. Ambition in scope and quality
The time was 1867. Canada had just become a young nation, and BioWare was hard at work on an interactive play for the local theater. The United States' purchase of Alaska was fresh on everyone's mind.

Hmmm... That doesn't seem quite right.

Let's see... memory.

Ah yes. I was hired by BioWare just before Christmas in 1996, but didn't actually start until May of 1997 when I actually completed my Computer Science degree. Between those two dates, our original concept for a game called Battleground: Infinity had begun to transform into Baldur's Gate.

What else do I remember... I remember six months of pizza during crunch. By the end, Ray was just ordering two toppings at random - like shrimp and pineapple.

I remember writing a scripting language in three days, including a decompiler. Then again, BGScript is a crime against nature.

Baldur's Gate was, in many ways, a triumph for us who didn't know any better. No one on the team was an industry veteran. As a result, we tried things that more experienced groups would have shied away from. Baldur's Gate is the game that it is because of this. The ambition shows through.

I think that the same ambition that made Baldur's Gate great also shows through in Dragon Age: Origins all these years later. The willingness to think bigger and then go out and try to accomplish those goals raises it to another level.

A lot of what BioWare was 10 years ago still shines through in the values of the company today. A focus on the quality of the product but without a willingness to destroy people to get there. Ambition in scope and quality that shows through in the finished product.

The food's better now, though.

As noted, BioWare's RPGs are better now too, partly because a good number of the newbie team that made Baldur's Gate have not only remained at the company but also continued to search for ways to do more. So, like other fans of the genre, we are eagerly awaiting Dragon Age: Origins to see where it will take its legacy. And of course, we're grateful to the four developers who took time from their busy work schedules to share their reminiscences in this 10-year anniversary feature.

Selected Links

Baldur's Gate Primer - October 1, 1998

It Ain't All Glitz and Glamour (Baldur's Gate visit report) - August 18, 1998


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