STP Q and A: Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition

One of the year’s most highly-anticipated iOS games is Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition, an iPad port of the 1998 PC RPG. It launches in the App Store later this week, so we asked Trent Oster, Creative Director of Overhaul Games, about the biggest changes and improvements, from the core system to the touchscreen controls and new content.

STP: The original Baldur’s Gate was released in 1998. How do you think it compares to other modern RPGs on the iOS platform?

Trent: I think Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition will appear monstrous when compared to the modern RPGs on the iPad. 80 hours of epic RPG, unmatched depth and tactical party- based combat make for a very powerful combination. I think BG:EE will be a high-water mark for the depth of gaming possible on tablet devices.

Screenshots are from the recently-released PC version.

STP: What were some of the challenges in porting the game from PC to a touch-based tablet?

Trent: Our first major challenge was the removal of a ton of Windows code. We went in, removed all the core Windows code, cut off all output and input and started anew. We rebuilt the core system much cleaner, built a new renderer, integrated a new sound engine, built new input system. In whole, a ton of work. The end result is very worthwhile though. This game plays great on the iPad.

STP: Touchscreen controls can make or break an iOS game. How does touch change the experience this time around?

Trent: We adopted a touch-centric approach when we re-designed the control system. We played with a large variety of apps to derive a control concept for how touch would work in BG: EE. In the end, we tried five major control concepts and we settled upon the current approach. We wanted it to feel like a touch interface and incorporate all those things that make touch feel good, such as the little bounce back when you pull a list too far. We’ve put a lot of effort into the control scheme and it has really paid off. The game plays great.

STP: Excitement for BG: Enhanced was palpable on the blogosphere. Was your team surprised at the level of support from the gaming community?

Trent: We were surprised at the intensity of the support. We knew the fans were out there and we knew they hadn’t had a great tactical party-based RPG in a long time. We also knew Baldur’s Gate had an active modding community and we tried early on to hook up with that community and work with them. We’re happy to say we are actively working with the modding group to not only improve the game, but to make it easier and more powerful for modding.

STP: BG: Enhanced is said to feature over 400 improvements. Was it difficult to determine what changes you wanted to make?

Trent: Yes. The scope of Baldur’s Gate is huge and we really wanted to focus on the goal of making the best Baldur’s Gate possible. Whenever we had a choice that would change the game in a profound manner, we chose the path we felt was the most true to the Baldur’s Gate concept. I think we’ve made a lot more than 400 improvements, but not every improvement is really visible, so I’d say we’ve made over 400 visible improvements to the game. We’re also not finished. We have plans to continue making the best Baldur’s Gate possible, updating with new features and improvements as we go.

STP: Expanding on that, what improvements are you most proud of, and which will be the most profound for long time fans of the series?

Trent: I think our biggest improvement is the new content. We’ve made some very fun characters, who integrate very well with the existing world yet bring some new interest to the original game. The other massive improvement to me is making the game cross platform. Playing BG: EE on an iPad or Android tablet multiplayer with a buddy on a PC is pretty awesome. I think the renderer makes the game look great at larger resolutions and allows us to keep the portraits large on the screen (which I feel are a key personality element of BG).

STP: What lessons did your team learn about porting to iOS that you can apply to BG2: Enhanced?

Trent: 1. Cut deeper. We learned the Infinity Engine in depth and now we know how it is trying to accomplish some tasks in a way that doesn’t translate well to new hardware. As a result, we can go in and re-build those components, improving them but also opening up new abilities in the engine that previously did not exist.

2. Focus on performance early. We had pretty good performance on all the iPad versions and then iOS 6 came out. With the update, they made some core change to the way graphics works and we lost a ton of performance. We had to go back in and re-optimize a lot to get back to where we were. Going forward, we’ll try to have a little extra performance in our pocket if we need it.

STP: Is there a chance we’ll see new entries in the franchise past BG2: Enhanced?

Trent: We’re very interested. We just need to convince our partners ;-) We’ve taken to calling the project BG: Next internally, so you know we’re interested.

STP: Angry Birds: Baldur’s Gate, would you consider it?

Trent: I doubt it. I think Angry Birds is a very well executed casual game concept and I think the marketing machine has gone way overboard. I guess that happens with any property that has broad market success, such as Pokemon or Mario. To me it just feels like hyper-commercialization. I think the end result is over-saturation of the characters which leads to everyone getting tired of the IP. I favor the slow, even burn over the supernova.