Qt3 Games Podcast: Gabe Lewis and Baldur's Gate

Gabe Lewis talks about why he’s bailing on Los Angeles. Then he talks Baldur’s Gate, even though he’s never finished it. What a poser! He even accuses me of online sexual deviancy. But there’s a seriously special treat at the one hour and twelve minute mark. If you listen to just three minutes of a podcast this year, make it the last three minutes of this one.

Also, listen to win a free game – it’ll be a surprise and it’ll probably suck! – on the platform of your choice. And congratulations to Deadbuffalo for getting stuck with, err, I mean for scoring a copy of Prototype.

Next week: triggercut and Fatal Frame…

(Download an EP from Gabe’s previous band here, or just grab this single from the EP, which actually earned him some filty lucre from Showtime!)

I finished Baldur’s Gate, twice.

Plus multiple failed runs around the Knoll Fortress east of the Mine where all the Miners sing the much beloved song “Get Me Outta This HELL Hole!”

As a lifelong Chicagoan who escaped to LA for college, Gabe, I think you’re crazy. Although the music scene here is definitely leagues better. If you find yourself in need of advice re: the city, hit me up.

On the subject of naming bands, I agree with Tom that it’s a load of fun. I’ve gone through way more band names than bands, and currently use the moniker Vigilante Obstetrician.

I totally agree about the traveling aspect. I really miss the exploration found in the original Baldur’s Gate. For the most part, MMOs and Bethesda games have filled that void but I’m still a bit bummed Dragon Age didn’t borrow more from Storm of Zehir or stuff like that.

I think Gabe undersells the graphics and animation of Baldur’s Gate. One of my favorite things about it was watching my heroes transform over the course of the game and how cool they looked at the end. The characters do change armor as they change between categories, but not much beyond that. There were a few different types of robes and helms visually as well (again iirc). I also thought the animation and spell effects were great. I was blown away by its faithfulness to D&D in its scope if not in the minute details. Details like using a Stone to Flesh spell to recruit a party member (without indicating the possibility to me ahead of time) were wonderful little discoveries playing it for the first time.

I also like many of the NPCs. My friends and I spent most of our youth trying to kill each other in our D&D games, so characters like Xzar and Montoran which travel with you only to sabotage you were close to my heart.

One thing I thought was cool about the lord of murder story is that your brother, the main villain, was messing with the ore to start a war. He hoped to ascend to the throne of baal by basically murdering as many people as possible and was killing his siblings in order to gain their power (iirc). It was such a concrete goal for a supervillain to me with understandable acts of evil within the mythos, sort of like Kefka in FF6 before the world breaks.

PS. I always pronounced Bhaal like Bale instead of Ball.

PPS. Bioware did most of the gameplay and engine work for Baldur’s Gate, Black Isle did the sound work, IIRC. Black Isle was a part of Interplay unlike Bioware, which is why when Interplay imploded they became Obsidian rather than maintain the name (again iirc).

PPPS. Tom, you make it sound like you were turning tricks in some dark seedy LA alley for your favorite dress.

I’m fairly familiar with the town, I was born there, and go back periodically to visit family etc. I am in love with it for alot of reasons. For me there is nearly nothing about Los Angeles that I like that doesn’t involve the people I know, or isn’t available in another major city.

I knew this even as a kid when every other inhabitants of LA would tell me how great the weather is, and I’d sit there wondering why the hell anybody would want it to be 75 degrees and sunny ALL YEAR ROUND. Anyway, I’ve had 21 great years here and feel like if I stay here, I am resigning myself to forcing myself into a music community that I think is pretty much garbage. Thanks for the offer, I will definitely send you PM when I’m moving.

Yeah I didn’t mean to shit on the plot as much as a I did. I just wanted to emphasize that the plot never meant much to me until much later on and had little to do with my early fascination with the game. There are some excellent party members, but again, there is very little going on with them on paper. Was there an actual plot in the game where Xzar betrays you? I only took him on once or twice (I mean he’s unstable, who needs a loose cannon like that anyway!) but don’t remember anything in particular happening. I know in BG2 he makes a cameo as well.

I also regret not spending anytime gushing about how much I actually like the tactical combat, and feel that Dragon Age totally missed what was special about it. It’s a novel try, but there is a serious pacing issue that modern games refuse to acknowledge. So much of the combat, especially in BG1 involves your attacks failing, and having to compensate using your whole party to keep the other members alive.

As far as I can remember, the cross-country traveling aspect of the game was indeed disliked by many gamers, and I think the designers ended up not liking them either. For better or worse, the wilderness sectors were mostly empty space. There were attempts to hook the player, usually with an NPC or two that would draw you towards some sort of interesting local event, but there was also a good chance that the player would simply miss whatever encounters a particular zone contained. From a developer standpoint, it’s the problem of creating content that the player might never see.

Pacing was also an issue, and this is one of the main reasons why BG2 used the travel system that it did. Specifically, I remember hearing somewhere that one goal of BG2 was to raise the encounter density, so that players always felt like they were doing something interesting.

Ah yes, Xzar and Montaron… There was a semi-scripted interaction between the evil aligned duo and the good aligned duo of Khalid and Jaheira. I’m not sure if it was triggered by time or by location, but around the time the party made it to Nashkel, the two pairs would basically start hitting each other over alignment differences.

  • Alan

From the wiki:

Also there are like 20+ joinable NPCs in BG1. It’s an insane amount.

Baldur’s Gate did not have any scaling. This actually caused some problems. A player who started as a fragile character might pass up Xzar and Montaron for roleplaying reasons, only to stroll into the next town and be jumped by a mid-level assassin. While it makes sense from a game-world perspective, it sort of sucks for the player. BG2 did have limited scaling, with “high-level” versions of many zones.

Both BG and BG2 were developed by BioWare, and published by Interplay’s Black Isle division.

  • Alan

Yeah I must have fought those fucking Assassins outside the mines 20 times, but damned if it isn’t satisfying when you finally kick their asses. The thing I appreciated was that there were very few insurmountable challenges. Even getting jumped by those higher level assassins, it was hard, but if you played it just right, and got a few lucky rolls, you could win in a big way.

As far as game theory goes, I understand why it’s not the best choice, but I always appreciated the tactical depth you could go to best those challenges. There were a few battles that I ended up running from. As a player I’m usually very aware of when a game is holding my hand, and most of the time it’s clammy and awkward.

LADY SNIFF! Awesome.

Hearing “So I kicked him in the head til he was dead” usually meant complete party wipe.

It was really easy to run into higher level encounters at lvl 1 if you just started exploring.

Firewine Bridge is bad news.

That would be how you pronounce the Lord of Destruction from Diablo II. It’s expansion funny enough came out right around the same time as the Throne of Bhaal BG2 expansion.

I disagree about Dragon Age, but I have a feeling that you played it on the 360 rather than the PC. Dragon Age is tacticalicious on the PC. But ya, there’s lots of memorable fights in BG1. Damn you fire arrow equipped dungeon dwelling kobolds! Actually I remember way more about BG1 than BG2. I should try to obtain whatever mod that merged the two games. I haven’t played them in ages… (and find their discs).

Well, I’m just going to disagree with the 600 million dollar (or was it 8?) hit RPG making game developer. So there! =P

There were attempts to hook the player, usually with an NPC or two that would draw you towards some sort of interesting local event, but there was also a good chance that the player would simply miss whatever encounters a particular zone contained. From a developer standpoint, it’s the problem of creating content that the player might never see.

I think exploration is game play itself and if someone misses a piece of content, it makes their narrative different than someone else’s and they can share they experience with their friends. I guess in the age of the internet and guides that’s doomed to failure, but the fact that you can head off into the wilderness and be surprised is what makes games like Oblivion work. It recreates the world building exploration aspect of P&P. Admittedly D&D has moved away from that back to its more wargamey roots, but the height of my D&D experience was Revised Second Edition where more free form, wing it, dungeon mastering was par for the course in my groups. Plans never survived contact with the enemy (the players) so why make them? Heh.

But yeah, I rarely missed stuff because I meticulously uncovered every single black spot on the map. That’s just how I roll.

This is why I never played BG. I started it up, went exploring, died every time, figured it was awful design and went back to Nethack, where the stupid deaths were at least explainable. :)

I also really enjoyed the exploration. The biggest issue was problems in the AI pathfinding which could make moving a party of six around the map troublesome, but I still obsessively eradicated every zone of any black. Some had dead spots where you couldn’t eliminate all the black and that was frustrating.

I also really loved filling my screen with summoned creatures to do my bidding. My army of skeletons, knolls and wolves was unstoppable!!! When I discovered BGII had capped the number of summoned creatures I was very sad.

Oddly I feel there’s more babysitting in Dragon Age then in BG. In the later the fighters got on with swinging and you would focus more on getting the mages or clerics to support, but in DA you’re pausing all the time to fire off another power. I do kind of miss just having fighters pound things.

I was a fan of the exploration in Baldur’s Gate, there was there huge (and deadly) wilderness and travelling it gave the world a sense of epic scale.

At the time it felt like the NPCs were deep too, even though they weren’t, a testament to the voice work. These days you can plug in a banter mod and they’re just like BG2 NPCs, with less voice work.

No one giving Kudos for Gabe’s singing? Did no one listen to the end of the podcast? Good job there Gabe. Pimp your CD when it comes out. Itunes yes?

Count me in as another one who never managed to complete Baldur’s Gate but finished BGII at least thrice and ToB at least once. I did like the early exploration factor in the huge 2D rendered maps and felt a lot of that was lost in the update to 3D that Dragon Age and Mass Effect does. The sense of discovery is somewhat muted in terms of what’s beyond that fog. It is however, made up by the scape and epicness of Vistas in Besthesda games. Something Bioware still needs to work at.

I however, did hate the inventory system and am much happier with Dragon Age’s version. I do like to see my item’s names with having to mouse-over muddy icons.

I was really blown away by the song he did. I wanted to hear what his music sounded like, but I was sort of dreading that it was going to be terrible. On the contrary, several seconds in, I realized, “Hey, this guy’s good!”. I’ve listened to the song a few times now and I’m really looking forward to getting a quality recording. What a great piece of work.

Chicago’s going to be lucky to get you, Gabe.


I hate to be the guy who comes in to make corrections but I’m pretty sure that BG1 was developed entirely by Bioware and then published under the Black Isle label which Interplay established specifically as an RPG publishing label.

This label later became synonomous with the group who developed Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment (using Bioware’s Infinity Engine) internally at Interplay. I don’t believe the label was used for some of that group’s early games like Fallout 1 & 2.

In the spirit of the internet I’m not going to fact check, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.

Also you can import your save files from BG1 directly into BG2 so I’m not sure what the point of this mod Gabe was talking about is, other than automating the process.

True, I also took over my cleric from 1 to 2.

Regarding your points about kids today not needing to use their imagination because of better graphics etc., I’d like to disagree. Or at least add that the RPG which most kids will play first while not even considering it to be one actually uses just mostly text to convey the actions. I’m talking of course about Pokemon, and I’m quite sure that lots and lots of kids imagine what really happened when their Bulbasaur’s attack on Charizard was “super effective!”