RPGamer Feature - Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition Interview
Platform: PC, iOS, Mac
Developer: Overhaul Games
Publisher: Atari
Release Date: 11.15.2013

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Hot on the heels of the successful launch of Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition, Overhaul Games is releasing the sequel Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition this November. The Enhanced Editions are a facelift of the classic PC RPGs, complete with modern touches such as widescreen support, bug fixes, and new content. After a slight contractual delay, development of the sequel is back on track. We sat down with Overhaul Games's Head of Business Development, Trent Oster, to discuss the upcoming release of Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition.

Johnathan Stringer (RPGamer): What is the current status of Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition?
Trent Oster (Overhaul Games): Baldurs Gate II: Enhanced Edition is nearing completion. We are almost done with all the engine improvements, and we are testing many of the new features in the original BG:EE with our Beamdog users. Everyone who bought BG:EE from Beamdog will have access to the beta. Since we've re-written large amounts of code, we need to ensure the save game system is compatible and ensure our extensive re-work has solved our issues with the integrated Intel cards and the limited Open GL support offered by them.

JS: When development on the game was suspended, were you confident the issue would be resolved or were you worried it would be cancelled?
TO: We were 100% committed to making Baldurs Gate II: Enhanced Edition. There was never any doubt from our side. We simply needed to resolve our outstanding issues with our publishing partner before we could proceed. After a while, we were starting to get a little depressed about the length of the suspension, but we were always certain that BGII:EE would ship.

JS: Did Baldur's Gate:Enhanced Edition meet sales expectations? How do you feel about the game's release and reception?
TO: Our initial sales expectations for Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition were on target. And that was after we made some large errors early on, with an overly optimistic launch plan and then a hard push to meet a contractual ship date.

That hard push led to a number of bugs slipping through, and we shipped a game we were not 100% happy with. Even with that headwind, the sales were quite strong out of the gate and have stayed quite robust. The reception was very positive, with a few holdouts who stated a clear preference for spending many hours installing specific mods to the original title make their personal best version of Baldur's Gate. With the upcoming patch, I'm certain even those stalwarts will re-evaluate their choice and agree that weve gone far beyond what the original title can offer from a graphics and feel standpoint. We've built the best possible version of Baldur's Gate.

JS: What lessons were learned from the first title that will be applied to Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition?
TO: We learned a number of lessons during the development of Baldurs Gate: Enhanced Edition. The major lessons were around the complexity of the code and how even minor changes can be a huge challenge.

We've since grown to understand the entire codebase in a much deeper manner, and have understood a number of the underlying tech decisions made by the original developers which do not work well in the computing environments of today. At the time they made sense, but modern computing has changed drastically from the late 90s.

One of the biggest changes going forward is the addition of a group of highly talented and highly experienced members of the Baldur's Gate modding community to our team. These experienced modders have become a core part of our team and allowed us to accomplish much more than we previously could.

We've also become much more diligent about testing. Our practices for testing, reporting, fixing, and regressing bugs has drastically improved, and has almost reached military-level precision. Alex, one of our lead testers, has started saluting me. A one hand raised salute, but a salute nonetheless.

JS: Have the modders been hired by Overhaul as members of the development team or are they just lending their expertise to the project?
TO: The modders we brought on are paid staff members and are in daily communication with our development team. They are an amazing group and we're very happy to be working alongside them.

JS: For those unfamiliar with Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition, could you give a quick overview of the game and the goal of the project?
TO: Our goal with Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition is to take a legendary RPG, (Baldur's Gate II) and make the best possible version of the game for the devices of today.

On PC and Mac, we've added a ton of features, fixed a huge number of performance related issues, and squashed thousands of general bugs. We've added a game matching system to make it much easier for people to play multiplayer games together. The difference between the old Mac version and our new release is like night and day.

We are also bringing this legendary title to new platforms, in the form of iPad and Android tablet devices. We'll explore bringing it to other platforms in the future.

JS: What other platforms would you like to explore for the enhanced edition games? Could these work on a console?
TO: Baldur's Gate would take a lot of re-working to make a good console title. It isn't impossible, but given the current interface and 2nd Edition rules, it would be a very tough task. I'm excited to bring BG:EE to Linux, and possibly in the future, have a look at bringing it to the phones. I played a development build on my iPhone and managed to get to the bottom of the Nashkel mines. The buttons were much too small to make a releasable game, but it was a neat feeling to play Baldur's Gate on a phone.

JS: What new content will be in Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition? Are you adding any new characters that weren't in the first game?
TO: We've brought back the blackguard Dorn Il-Khan, Neera the Wild Mage, and the Sun Soul Monk Rasaad (voiced by Mark Meer of Mass Effect fame). Each new character has some deep character development arcs, and there's a ton of new content and places to explore.

We're also adding another new NPC, but we are keeping the new character under wraps for now. Suffice to say we've addressed a major request for a certain character type to join your party. And no, it's not Baeloth. He's busy.

JS: If one of the new characters perished in a Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition save, and if one imports that file into Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition, will the character show up in the sequel as the original characters do?
TO: We've decided to embrace the Baldur's Gate canonical party and follow in the footsteps of the original game, so you will start with Imoen, Minsc and Jaheira. If one of our new characters died along the way, they will re-appear in BG2:EE regardless of how you managed to kill them off.

JS: What has been the biggest challenge in development thus far?
TO: The legacy code. The Infinity Engine did some amazing tricks back in the day which really do not work well with modern computers. We've had to re-write huge sections of the code to bring the stability and performance up to modern expectations. Additionally, because of our port to Android, we had to re-write a significant portion of the asset handling system. Cameron says he still has nightmares about it.

JS: I imagine coding the Android version was especially tough due to the numerous devices running the Android OS. Is there a strict limitation on which devices can run the enhanced editions? How difficult was it to get compatibility across the multitude of various devices?
TO: The largest issue was the core file system, which had to be re-written from scratch to work within the Android eco-system. We're focusing on the major tablet devices, and I'm certain there will be some hardware which does not work. The Nexus 7 is one of our go-to devices as is the Motorola Xoom, so we know those two are solid.

JS: While the Enhanced Editions are generally well regarded amongst fans, there are some critics. One criticism is that since Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition was upgraded with the Baldur's Gate II engine, what is the benefit or point of Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition over the original? Similarly, what sets Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition apart from the original game with mods and patches applied?
TO: With Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition the volume of new features and improvements is almost endless. To put it simply, you cannot reach the level of the polish, functionality, and amazing new story additions through any other means.

If you were a fan of the original game or you've heard about Baldur's Gate II, but never played it, you need to get the Enhanced Edition. We've taken a great game, added a ton of new, interesting content, bundled in the Throne of Bhaal expansion and added a ton of new features, including a new full screen display mode, which lets you see all the glory of the re-mastered area artwork we've managed to put together.

The user interface has been cleaned up and vastly improved, we have multiplayer matching that actually works, and you'll be able to play with friends on iPad or Android while you're on your PC or Mac, and vice-versa. And when you get the game, you can start playing it immediately because there's no need to mess around with fix-packs or other mods before it's "ready" to play.

JS: Do you have any plans beyond Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition?
TO: We like Dungeons and Dragons, and we want to keep working with Wizards of the Coast to bring more great D&D adventures to the fans of the Baldur's Gate series. We know the fans would love a Baldur's Gate III, and we'd love to bring it to them when the time is right. We also have a few things in the skunk works at the moment, so those should be fun to talk about when they make it out of the lab.

JS: Any final thoughts you would like to share?
TO: I think in summary I'd just like to say what really makes the Baldur's Gate series amazing to me is the fans. So many people love this game that it boggles the mind. As we are also huge fans of the series, we love that we can take such a great title and reintroduce it to old fans in an improved form, while also bringing such an amazing game to new fans on new devices.

We want to offer a big thanks to Trent Oster for answering the bevy of questions thrown at him and offering insight into the upcoming release of Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition. The Baldur's Gate games are classics that any fan of western-style PC RPGs need to play. The crew at Overhaul Games are giving these classic games the make-over they deserve.

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