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volume 1, issue 41

Today in loonygames:

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Beaker's Bent:
The Baldur's Gate Rant






By Rich "Beaker" Wyckoff

I've been designing games professionally for three years and thinking about designing them for most of my life (when not playing them). I tend to present strong opinions, but I want to make it clear that these are only opinions, and I don't want to come off like some of the famous names in the industry who seem to think that selling a lot of copies of a game and getting attention from the press makes them an expert on everything about making games. My tenet is that if you claim to know everything, you're missing out on the fact that there's always something new to learn, some other opinion which is worth considering, some experience you are still lacking...

here's a topic I've been holding my tongue on for far too long, and that topic is Baldur's Gate, as should be evident from the title. Once again, the continuing RPG drought has elevated a game which is at best merely competent into the realms of fabulous success. In fact, the Baldur's Gate phenomenon reminds me an awful lot of the Daggerfall rage a couple years back, although this time around I was taken in as well. Yes, like almost every RPG fan, I waited with breathless anticipation for Baldur's Gate, which I had been following since the days it was known as Iron Throne when it was known at all.

You see, there was a time when I would call myself a diehard RPG fan (or, in fact, when I still cared to make the distinction, a CRPG fan). The very first computer game I bought for myself was Ultima III for the C64 back when I was in 6th grade. Even though I didn't actually own a Commodore and could only play it at school, and never figured out how to actually follow the plot, I had a good time running around the land killing monsters and getting gold. The hook was set, and I'd keep coming back to RPGs no matter what else I found interesting.

A little later on my family's TI994A I played this dungeon thing whose name I don't recall which was basically a single, 10-level deep Ultima dungeon (3D vector corridors and top-down combat sequences). In addition to beating it compulsively, I used a separate editor program I had downloaded on our speedy 1200-baud modem to create my own monster graphics and names - game designer training though I didn't know it then.

It wasn't too much later after passing through the inevitable NES phase which included Dragon Quest (though I somehow missed Final Fantasy), that I wound up using and abusing our Tandy 1000 with a 20MB hard drive during what was probably the most golden RPG period of all - the last years of the 1980s. Games like Wasteland showed me how deep and absorbing the adventures could get, while attempting to survive a little longer in Rogue took up most of my spare time between the major releases.

And then, as a birthday gift, I got my first PC-compatible that I could call my very own - a seemingly unstoppable 386SX/16, with luscious 256 color 320x200 and the very first Sound Blaster card, and the RPGs got even better - Ultima VI, and its undeservedly ignored cousins Martian Dreams and the game I sometimes call my favorite RPG of all time, Savage Empire, and plenty of others which I've now forgotten. And it was on this machine, before I made the next leap up to a 486/33, that I first saw where computer games could go (but still haven't) in the form of Ultima Underworld.

And later, though many people at the time would have disagreed and some still do, I played the games I think represent the highest evolution of the top-down RPG, Ultima VII and and UVII Pt 2, Serpent Isle. These games taxed even my once-mighty 486, annoyed me with their ridiculous custom 32-bit extender which was incompatible with everything and required more base memory than DOS4/GW (anyone still remember those days of DOS extenders and 640kb of base memory? *shudder*), but still I loved them like almost no game except their slightly more primitive UVI-engine predecessors.


(Continued on Next Page)


Credits: Beaker's Bent logo illustrated by and is © 1999 Dan Zalkus. Beaker's Bent is © 1999 Rich Wyckoff. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't do it. We have ways of making you talk.