Baldurs Gate: Old School Gaming for the iPad

Sick of simple games on your smartphone? A team of developers is bringing adventure to the iPad.
Screenshot of gameplay of Baldurs Gate on the iPad.
Baldurs Gate brings strategy to Ipad gaming
By Red Bull UK

It’s no secret that gaming’s biggest icons have had to learn to adapt to this brave new world of mobile gaming: the rise of the smartphone and the tablet has changed the types of game many people play.

It’s no longer about maddening strategy games you can lose yourself in for hours on end: most people want a game they can play in quick blasts on the bus. Think Angry Birds and Cut The Rope, not full fat Football Manager.

Trent Oster wants to change that.

He and his dozen strong team (including five others who helped create the original game) are working on resurrecting one of the greatest roleplaying games (RPGs) of all time: Baldur’s Gate. And they’re bringing it to touchscreens.

Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition, out at the end of the month on iPad and Android tablets as well as PC and Mac, is a completely revamped version of the hit 1998 game, with new graphics, and even new maps and character classes (Monk, Wild Mage and Blackguard if you’re asking).

Baldur’s Gate brought fantasy adventure games into the mainstream, and turned developer BioWare into the powerhouse it is today, responsible for blockbuster games like Mass Effect. Yes, it’s serious +1 mace, dungeons and dragons stuff: it actually uses the official Dungeons & Dragons rules to work out who deals what damage, not that players would ever see all the digital dice being rolled behind the scenes.

But it’s also hopelessly addictive, if you’re prepared to sink the time into it and learn how it works. That’s something Oster, who worked on the original Baldur’s Gate, thinks publishers are too scared of offering gamers these days.

Screenshot of players around a church in Baldurs Gate
Bionic Studios designed the new Baldurs Gate

“The project came about out of frustration and playing with an iPad for the first time,” he says. “We were frustrated with the lack of deep gameplay in many recent games. In my opinion, many games have gone too far simplifying gameplay to make it appealing to the casual gamer. We wanted to work on games that were deep and entertaining.”

And despite the success of pick-up-and play games like Angry Birds and Temple Run, Oster says the iPad is the perfect format for the game. “The first time I picked up and iPad I said, ‘You know what would be awesome on this? Baldur's Gate would be awesome on an iPad.’ It is.”

Oster, who served as the original game’s 3D Department Head and oversaw artwork for the game, as well as multiplayer QA (quality assurance - checking it’s actually fun), has been hard at work on Enhanced Edition at Overhaul Games, a development studio based in Edmonton, Canada.

But perhaps the hardest task was actually snagging the rights to remake Baldur’s Gate in the first place: Oster had to barter between five companies for more than a year to get the greenlight.

“We started digging into the ownership puzzle that is Baldur's Gate” he says. “During that period we were going back and forth almost daily with proposals and counter-proposals.”

Fourteen months later we had an agreement for the Enhanced Edition and a code and asset drop from Bioware...the process was truly exhausting.

With release just weeks away, it’s nearly at it’s end, but Oster plans to get stuck straight into revamping the sequel, Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows Of Amn, which came out in 2000.

“We are committed to doing Baldur’s Gate 2: Enhanced Edition,” he says. “The instant Baldur’s Gate is completed most of our team is ready to start work on [it], with a couple holding back to continue to add features and support the fans...We're planning on shipping [it] in 2013, hopefully before the end of summer. I want to enjoy some sun this year - 2012 was a write off.”

Unfortunately, despite the similarities between the iPad and the iPhone, one thing we won’t see is this kind of hardcore gaming on Apple’s smartphone: it’s just too much to fit on a four-inch screen - yet.

A screenshot of the logo for the new Baldurs Gate Enhanced Edition game
Baldurs Gate Enhanced Edition for iPad and Android

“Our current version actually works on the iPhone 4, but the text is too small to read and the buttons are impossible to press, so we're not going to ship it,” says Oster. But never say never: “We believe with some UI [user interface] rethinking we might be able to do an iPhone version in the future.”

After that though, who knows? Oster has said before that he’d like to create Baldur’s Gate 3. But that’s down to how all those PC gamers and casual iPad players like the first two.

“What comes after that is completely dependent on the success of the Enhanced Editions. We're big RPG fans and we want to keep making RPGs as long as possible,” he says.

Even if he can’t make entry number three, Oster just hopes Baldur’s Gate’s return will bring immersive gaming back to the mainstream.

“I think the potential of the touch interface is phenomenal and it can support much more in-depth games than the current offerings,” he says - though he also confesses to being an avid Draw Something fan.

“By bringing an epic 80 hour role playing experience to the iPad we can open up the floodgates and encourage more developers to make deeper, more involving games.”

For $9.99 (£6.25), three days of non-stop gaming certainly promises more value for money than pressing jump over and over again.

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