Baldur’s Gate 3 is indeed happening and it’s being developed by Larian Studios, makers of Divinity: Original Sin 2. Coming off of such a critically acclaimed RPG, it seems like the perfect match–and the partnership between Larian and Wizards of the Coast (license holders of Dungeons & Dragons) has quite the story. Ahead of the official reveal of Baldur’s Gate 3, GameSpot video producer and D&D aficionado Dave Jewitt was able to catch up with the founder and head of Larian Studios Swen Vincke. And they talked about almost everything that led up to this point; from how Divinity was influenced by Baldur’s Gate and the creative approach when handling a storied franchise to the office dynamics at Larian and what it’s like to work on the cloud-based gaming platform Google Stadia.
While Baldur’s Gate 3 was announced within the Stadia Connect stream ahead of E3 2019, Larian plans on bringing it to PCs as well. There’s also no release date quite yet, so it’s likely we won’t see the game launched alongside Stadia–as Vincke says, it’ll be ready when it’s ready. For now, enjoy Dave’s conversation with Swen Vincke about all things Baldur’s Gate below or check out the trailer breakdown they did together in the video above.
What was the mood in the studio after Divinity: Original Sin 2, given its reception after the definitive edition and everything else?
Swen Vincke: Ecstatic. That pretty much sums it up. Super proud. People worked very, very, very hard on it and so, it was very rewarding to see all the critical acclaim, and from then the fans, and from the sales. It was just fantastic.
Did that factor into Baldur’s Gate 3 at all or have you been working on it alongside D:OS2?
SV: The team already knew that we were working on Baldur’s Gate 3, so they were really excited to start, actually impatient to start working on it. One of the things that we needed to do to get this deal done was to get the script of the story to Wizards of the Coast before Original Sin 2 shipped, actually. I think it must have been July or August , just before it shipped.
With the writers, we went to a hotel room and sat there the entire weekend and just churned out the entire script that we then sent through to Wizards of the Coast.
What did Wizards of the Coast say?
SV: They said, “You guys should finish Divinity: Original Sin 2!” [laughs]
It’s the second version, but the core ideas were there already. It was just that we didn’t have the time to work everything out, but then afterwards, once D:OS2 shipped, we had all the time in the world to focus on Baldur’s Gate, so, we spent a lot of time at their offices.
What made you want to pursue the Baldur’s Gate license?
SV: There’s a bunch of reasons. Dungeons & Dragons is something that’s super loved in the studio. Obviously, we’re making RPGs, and it’s been around for 40 years. The second is that, if you think about what D&D is, it’s a game system in which you’re given an adventure, a reason to go do things and use the gameplay systems to overcome challenges. Typically you’re going to do all kinds of crazy things to overcome the game master. And if the game master’s any good, they’re going to make sure they can just manage to do it.
If you think about Original Sin 2, that’s literally what we’re trying to do also. There’s a very, very close match in offering systems to players and reasons to do things, then giving them the very big question which you get in D:OS2 and in D&D: what do you do? The fit was very natural and something started talking about with Wizards of the Coast quite some time ago.
The third thing is that it’s an incredible challenge. People have been waiting for it for more than 20 years now. It’s something for the team to overcome, it’s to make them even better than they already are, and say ‘can we manage to do this?’ People are super motivated to demonstrate that they can because they’re all very talented. So, hopefully we will manage.
Is this something that Wizards of the Coast approached you with, or was this something that you wanted to do with your lineage and approach them with the idea?
SV: It goes in both directions. I originally approached them after Divinity: Original Sin 1, but they felt I was still too green back then. As we were making Original Sin 2 and I guess as they were seeing what we were doing, Nathan from Wizards approached me and asked, “Do you still want to do this?” I said, “F*** yeah!”
I said, “I want to do this.” So, he said, “Here’s what you need to do.” Then we did all those things, and out of that came the deal.
What was the reaction? Did you sit everyone in the studio down and say, “We’ve got Baldur’s Gate 3”–what was that like?
SV: There were two reactions. It was quite funny actually. So, we have four studios. And I also told Steve not to tell the other guys, because I wanted to have the joy of being the one telling them and seeing their faces.
We gathered everybody around and we had two reactions. We had the guys that were completely freaking out. But then surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, the younger ones that said, “What is it? [whispering]” They actually didn’t know what it was.
It shows you how long it’s been since people actually played Baldur’s Gate. Then when people explained it to them, the reaction became, “Oh my god, okay, that’s really cool.” But they didn’t have the insane reaction that you see the ones that played it when they were young.
For a lot of them, it was their first RPG that they ever played. That was actually eye opening and told us instantly of something that we would have to overcome. If we want to make this game, we have to educate people on what this actually is.
Is three a reimagining? A straight sequel? How much are you taking from the originals?
SV: The previous Baldur’s Gate were based on Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. We’re now Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition. A lot of stuff has happened in Forgotten Realms. A lot of stuff has happened in Baldur’s Gate, so this is going to be a new entry.
There will obviously be references to everything that happened in the first and the second, but this is very much its own story. You needn’t have played the previous Baldur’s Gates to understand what’s going on, but if you have, you will recognize the references. For example, if you just look at the teaser trailer, you will notice the guy’s from the Flaming Fist, he has a flaming fist on his chest.
So, this game is more keeping in the tabletop lore than it is directly coming from Baldur’s Gate 2.
SV: Yes. It’s very much set into Forgotten Realms and where the universe is at now, but it is its own story. We worked very closely with Wizards, they actually adapted certain things for us so that it would work in the video game also. They’ve been very, very flexible in that. There are adaptations that we had to make to turn it into a video game, but it features a lot of the iconic stuff that people love about Dungeons & Dragons.
Larian, of course, having a lot of expertise in this genre, what do you think that your studio’s going to be able to add to what’s already a dense franchise with a history to it?
SV: I think that our systems focus that we had in previous games we’ve made is going to add a lot. You’re going to have a lot more agency available because of all the freedom we’re going to offer you when you have overcome challenges. The effect of that is going to be a big thing.
We’re also in 2019 now–so it’s not going to necessarily launch this year–but in 2019, the world has moved on tremendously. With Divinity: Original Sin, we’ve demonstrated that we can make what people call classic RPG values, that we can make modern. You will see a modern version of Baldur’s Gate, but it’s going to be true to the core of Dungeons & Dragons more than anything. It’s going to feature tough decisions, player agency, systems, strong narrative, companions, gather your party.
All those things will be present and you’ll be able to play it in single player and in multiplayer, like the original ones, but then in our way and much more evolved than it was back then.
The evolution of games over the past 20 years since the original is obviously going to influence how Baldur’s Gate 3 is.
SV: Yeah. We try to not go backwards, but going forwards. I think that we’ll be bringing a bunch of new things to the genre also. There’s a whole bunch of stuff, ideas that we’ve been sitting on that we haven’t been able to put in our previous games that nobody has put in RPGs. You’ll see that come through in Baldur’s Gate 3.
When you worked on the original Divinity, was that at all inspired by the Baldur’s Gate series?
SV: It’s funny that you mention it. Just before that, we made a game called The Lady, The Mage, And The Knight (LMK) which was canceled. And we discovered that Baldur’s Gate was in development as we were making LMK. Then obviously it got canceled and it just went on the backburner.
When it came to pitching the first Divinity to publishers, what we told them was that it was a cross between Diablo and Baldur’s Gate just to explain to them what the concept was. Yeah, there was definitely some inspiration there. Diablo was the one that had the action RPG focus. Baldur’s Gate was more about all the systems and stats that you had, and the party and them joining the exploration. There was a lot more world exploration to Baldur’s Gate than you had in Diablo because you could interact with people, you could actually talk to them whereas Diablo was really about the character progression and action.
Being that this series was something that influenced your earliest games, it must feel pretty amazing now to be building the next iteration of that series.
SV: Yeah, it’s a very big responsibility. I mean, this is the type of game people have been already defining for themselves what it should be. So, we’re going to be fighting against those expectations but we’ll make it our way, what we think is the right way of doing it. Then we’ll see what the community will say. I think they’ll have a lot of fun with it, but yeah. We’ll see.
What are you’re expecting to come out of the official announcement?
SV: We wanted to talk about it because we’ve been very bad at keeping it a secret, so that’s been clear. We want to start talking to our community also. We’ve made all of our games together with the community. This will be no different. Obviously, we’ll have the entire Dungeons & Dragons community also that we will start engaging with and somehow, together, we’re going to evolve towards the RPG that it deserves to be.
Are you doing the same route that you did with Original Sin, Original Sin 2? Are you going with a Kickstarter or are you fully taking this and running with it with some community involvement?
SV: It’s not going to be a Kickstarter, that I can tell you. Original Sin 2 was so insanely successful that it wouldn’t make sense to take it [Baldur’s Gate 3] to Kickstarter, except for the community. We’re going to do other things to involve our community and we’ll announce them over the coming months.
What stage of development is it in at the moment?
SV: We’re in production. This is the biggest RPG we’ve ever made, so our team is now over 200 people internally and together with all the externals, we’re heading over 300 people. It’s a very big production. It’s the biggest that we’ve ever done.
Being the biggest RPG you’ve ever made, do you have an overarching goal of what can you expect to see in terms of scope?
SV: Freedom of choice, agency, that’s the key pillar. Whether you’re playing single player or in multiplayer, having the freedom to affect the world and the world reacting to your actions as you embark on this fantastic narrative and having many, many, many different ways to play such that when you talk to one of your friends about how your session went, you say, “Are we playing the same game?” Mostly because of of the choices you make, that’s the ideal scenario.
Production values are very high also. Back in the days, Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2 were actually accomplishments when you see the size of the world. It has to be the same thing again when you look at it.
Then, lots to explore, right? When you play Baldur’s Gate, you were exploring a lot of things, so this has to be the same when you get that feeling of exploration, there’s one more thing to discover and say, “Oh my God, that leads to this thing, I didn’t expect that.” Then preferably, when you get there you’ll say, “Oh, because of what I did there, this happened here.” Right? If we can get that feeling, then you’ll feel as if the adventure is yours or your party’s.
Since it’s so inspired and based on tabletop Dungeons & Dragons, is that influencing the way you’re approaching multiplayer? Is it going to be like you’re sitting down with a dungeon master? Or is it going to be a set number of party people?
SV: It’s a video game, so you want your video games to react rapidly to what you’re doing and you want it to be presented to you in a visual way. A dungeon master appeals a lot to your imagination, so here we have to show things. In that sense, it will be different.
When it comes to multiplayer, you can expect us to make sure just as you have in a traditional tabletop session, each person is they’re own hero. We’re together as a party, but we each have our own story and we each define parts of what’s going to happen in this adventure and maybe some conflicting. That should be very present.
For anyone who’s not familiar with Baldur’s Gate, as you said before there are people that are new to this franchise, can you kind of break down what we’re seeing in the teaser that will catch us up and get us ready for Baldur’s Gate 3?
SV: All right. You’re seeing the city of Baldur’s Gate 3 to start with, which I think is it’s first 3D rendition actually, ever done. Then, you see a knight who belongs to a group of mercenaries called The Flaming Fist, who are law and order in the outer sides of the city and into parts of what’s called lower city. You have also an upper city part which is where all the rich live in Baldur’s Gate. They’re governed by somebody else called The Watch.
Then you see that there’s been conflict clearly. There’s dead bodies everywhere and then something’s happening to this knight and he’s actually undergoing a version of what we would call accelerated ceremorphosis, which is basically a way of reproduction that these creatures called the mind flayers have.
They stick a tadpole in people’s heads, that tadpole grows, and then it turns a human being or any humanoid being into a mind flayers and these are the guys you may know from Stranger Things, maybe. They’re these psyonic creatures with tentacles and very intelligent but they’re hive creatures. They have elder brains that command them.
They used to have an incredible empire called the Mind Flayer Empire but things went wrong, so they’ve been in hiding ever since in a place called The Underdark, which is like the deep underground of this world of Forgotten Realms. Somehow, they’ve managed to get people into Baldur’s Gate that are turning into mind flayers and you see some shots where they’re flying in the distance, so it’s an invasion of mind flayers, too.
In the very last shot, you see that big thing with tentacles, that’s called an Ultoid and that’s the thing that they used to have when they had their ancient empire. Think of it as a spaceship that was capable of navigating the astral plane, which is…almost like quantum mechanics to explain how that works [laughs].
Yeah, that’s what you’re seeing. Time to gather the party.
What you’re doing in Baldur’s Gate 3, is that now influencing the tabletop version of the world of Baldur’s Gate?
SV: Yeah, and we worked very closely with Wizards on this and the people that worked on what used to be called Eclipse, Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus. They spent a lot of time with us and we spent a lot of time in their offices.
There’s been close collaboration on planting the seeds of what we needed in Descent Into Avernus, which starts just before Baldur’s Gate 3 the video game. There’s a lot of stuff that you will find in there that you will see referenced back inside of the game and vice versa. There’s seeds planted for stuff that will evolve into the video game.
This is one of the first games we’ve heard about it being on Google Stadia. Can you tell us about how it’s going to work on an unknown platform like that?
SV: It’s not so unknown for us [laughs]. We’ve been at it for some time. The thing about Stadia is that it’s going to be accessible to anybody, at least if you have Stadia services within the country where you are. It’s going to allow you to play the game at really high settings on a very shitty PC, which is going to solve one of the problems that we have with this game because the production values are so high. We’ve always tried to make the games fairly low specs, so that solves that.
Stadia will also allow a whole bunch of community features that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to do. I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention to what’s happening in the streaming sphere when it comes to Dungeons & Dragons, but there’s a lot going on there. Things like Stadia allow you to do much more.
We’re implementing Stadia fairly deep into the game, actually. In due course, we will announce the features and demonstrate it. I don’t think people understand, yet, exactly how transformative Stadia is going to be. Not in a corporate way, I actually mean it. Because they haven’t seen it, they haven’t touched it, but it is quite special.
I suppose that’s a great way of bringing something like Dungeons & Dragons that’s supposed to be accessible to anyone, Stadia seems like a perfect match for that. Like you said, anyone with a shitty PC can still play and get involved.
SV: It democratizes it. I mean, you’ll be able to access it anywhere and if you have an RPG which lasts over 100 hours that you play in multiplayer, one of the biggest problems that you have is when can I join my party? When will the party be online together?
If you can access it from anywhere with something like Stadia that will increase the chances that you can be able to continue your adventure together, I think that’s a really good thing.
You literally just showed me the teaser but do you have any timeframe whatsoever as to when people can get their hands on Baldur’s Gate 3?
SV: When it’s ready, yes. You could’ve seen that one coming [laughs]. We’re going to take all the time we need to make this one really, really good. I think people have been waiting for 20 years, so they can afford to wait a little bit longer.
There will be a lot of excitement once people discover it. We’ve seen some excitement already because of the leak, but I think that it deserves to be really good and I really think my team is capable of delivering.