Tactical Chat: Beamdog’s Trent Oster on Baldur’s Gate for iPad

"Forget it, Jake - that's Candlekeep."

Besides running on modern systems, the new Baldur’s Gate adds new characters and a new adventure.

Baldur’s Gate is part of that turn-of-the-millenium RPG generation that includes Fallout and Daggerfall – truly enormous games with so much content that only the most obsessed saw it all. If the task of remaking a beloved classic for modern platforms to the satisfaction of fans isn’t Herculean enough, the former Bioware types at Overhaul Games have also decided to simultaneously launch Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition on PC, Mac, and iPad, with an Android version waiting in the wings. Spare a thought for the QA department at Overhaul, who are no doubt rocking back and forth in the corner, muttering about mages.

With the release of Baldur’s Gate coming next week on the 28th, I talked to Trent Oster, the director of business development at Overhaul’s parent, Beamdog.

Owen Faraday: Given that you’re developing for so many different platforms at once, what did you do to ensure that the touchscreen editions of the game got enough care & feeding?

Trent Oster: We played the game a lot! We made sure to play the game frequently on the tablet platforms, constantly iterating on the control scheme. We had a large private beta test where the PC version was constantly getting tested in-depth and as such we were able to allocate more internal testing to the tablets. We also pulled in a few friends out there in the world, from former lead game designers to journalists who specialize in the tablet space. We listened carefully to the feedback and implemented the changes we could to make the game better on the tablet without changing the core mechanics. We’re pretty happy with the end result.

OF: What can we expect from the iPad edition from a UI standpoint? How do the enhancements to the game work into the iPad version?

Helena Bonham Carter, perhaps?

New character Neera the Wild Mage.

Oster: The iPad UI had a few additional buttons, such as a hint button to help you see things you can interact with and a quicksave button to help you save the game often – which you should really do. We’ve also added a help screen which shows all the main UI buttons and what actions they perform. We re-worked the PC interface to obey touch interface rules, making the scroll bars touch scroll, the text touch scroll and bounce back, we changed the inspect item from a right click to a touch hold action. Touching the main screen sets the location for a character to walk to. Touch dragging moves the screen. After a few touches, the control becomes very intuitive on the Tablets.

OF: When do you anticipate that we’ll see the Android edition? What prevented the Android version from shipping with the others?

Oster: We’re still working hard on the Android version. Our main delays have been the wide variety of Android hardware and differing levels of performance. We’ve been trying to optimize the game to look great, but some of the low-end hardware becomes very unhappy when we try to layer a shader-based Catmull-Rom filter with a UI render in a buffer. As such, we’ve had to build a couple different render passes into the engine. Since we are a small team we only have so many people to look at one platform at a time and we prioritized accordingly.

OF: Are you planning on refreshing any more older IP or is the next project something different?

Oster: Our new content team is already hard at work on BG2: Enhanced Edition. After that, we’ve got a few ideas. BG:Next keeps coming up as a potential project. We’ve also got some big Star Wars fans on the team, so that potential has come up as well. We’ve already mentioned our interest in Icewind Dale and Planescape Torment as well. If Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition is a big success, we’ll have a lot of opportunities and we’re very hopeful it is a big success. We’ve put a lot of sweat and tears into the game and we hope the fans of the series appreciate our caretaking.

Go for the eyes, collaboratively.

Online multiplayer will be cross-platform, letting iPad players adventure with PC players.

OF: Can we expect to see iOS & Android platform support from you on future projects?

TO: I’m personally a big believer in the tablet space and I feel it is a great place for game development. I think console development is too huge and the technical and team requirements are simply beyond where we want to go. On the tablets and desktops, we can make more fun games that are less beholden to technology and massive teams. We can build a small company that is fun to work at and each person can make a real mark on the game we are developing. When the teams get up into the hundreds you really lose the personal connection with a title and I think that personal connection is what makes some games truly great.