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GDC Europe: BioWare Doctors Look Back On Baldur's Gate Franchise

Talking at GDC Europe on Monday, BioWare's Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuk looked on the studio's founding and the creation of the seminal Baldur's Gate franchise, detailing the creation of an all-time classic.
Talking at GDC Europe on Monday, BioWare's Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuk looked back on the founding of their studio and the creation of the seminal Baldur's Gate franchise, detailing the creation of an all-time classic. The duo noted that when they started their company in the mid-'90s, it was simply due to a passion, but both were actually practicing medical professionals. As they joked, they said if they failed: "We can quit and become doctors" - and in fact, Ray Muzyka only quit practicing in 2000. When BioWare started, the duo noted that they pitched their first game Shattered Steel to perhaps 10 publishers -- and "of those 10 publishers, [one] is still is business" -- Electronic Arts. Following the publishing of that 1996 title, the duo pitched Battleground Infinity, which was at one point actually going to be a full online game. As the doctors noted, "If we had tried to make that game... BioWare's first game would have been an MMO." And as Interplay picked up Battleground Infinity as a much simpler single-player RPG, they applied TSR's Dungeons & Dragons license to it. In fact, at the time, "there was a concept that there was no future for role-playing games at all", the duo noted. Yet after Diablo came out -- about a year before the 1998 release of Baldur's Gate there was a movement back to the classic RPG paradigms. Muzyka described it as a "return to the roots of gaming" -- a re-encapsulating of seminal titles like Wizardry, Bard's Tale, Betrayal At Krondor, and Might & Magic. The team at Bioware were inexperienced in the conventional game business, too. Not one person of the 60 who shipped Baldur's Gate had ever made a video game before -- "but they all came to it with passion and a love of the art." And what did they learn through shipping the classic, multi-million selling RPG title? As Muzyka notes, the "collaborative design spirit" of BioWare arose from those early days, where egalitarian discussion of ideas really works to make a better game. The duo also pointed to their collaboration with Interplay, including key figures like Brian Fargo and Feargus Urquhart, as a very important reason why the Baldur's Gate series succeeded. While the first Baldur's Gate was repeatedly delayed to expand the scope, it did debut in 1998 to great success, and was followed by a sequel, Baldur's Gate II, which was twice as long as the original and debuted in 2000. And, in fact, there was a large, series-capping expansion for the second game -- and Greg commented that "the biggest mistake we ever made" was in not making the Baldur's Gate II expansion Throne Of Baal into Baldur's Gate III, in terms of positioning and marketing. The duo concluded by discussing Bioware's ethos today, as the team has expanded to 800 people and includes offices in Austin (working on Star Wars: The Old Republic), as well as the BioWare Mythic offices in Virginia, and additional offices in Montreal and Ireland. As gaming has changed, Greg noted that "the very top of the market is still a very good place to be", and that's where they're aiming with titles like the Mass Effect franchise and The Old Republic, but they are dabbling in markets such as Facebook (Gift Of The Yeti) and iPhone titles. Muzyka also teased some potentially exciting new titles, as yet unannounced, coming out of the Virginia-based BioWare Mythic office that currently operates stalwart, still-profitable titles such as Warhammer Online and Ultima Online.

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