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volume 1, issue 41

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Beaker's Bent:
The Baldur's Gate Rant

By Rich "Beaker" Wyckoff

I still have a long way to go on my own quest to make the Ultimate first-person RPG, and I was really beginning to feel the effects of the RPG drought. Luckily my clued-in friends led me to try Final Fantasy, and I discovered the joys of console RPGs and realized that the dedicated game machines weren't the kiddie toys I had been dismissing them as, but still my cravings weren't fully satisfied. As awesome and epic and dramatic as console RPGs are, the conventions they adopted due to their hardware limitations put them in a very different class. For instance, I'll never quite be satisfied with a separate battle screen - one reason why Chrono Trigger still ranks as possibly the best console RPG ever.

Out of continuing desperation, I even took to playing old RPGs I had missed during the golden years, like the SSI Gold Box AD&D games at which I had previously turned up my nose. Although the weak Bard's Tale-like exploration engine of the games was incredibly annoying after the freedom and richness of the Underworld games, the tactical complexity of the turn-based combat system and the number of different types of enemies and locations to explore made these games pretty awesome. So when I started to read about a new, top-down AD&D game with a graphical engine that looked like an jawdroppingly rich version of Ultima VII, of course I was excited.

It was a long wait for Baldur's Gate, and in the meanwhile Fallout, the long-rumored Wasteland "sequel," came out and was hailed as the sign of the rebirth of RPGs. Never mind that this game had an amount of bugginess which made Origin during the Ultima VII period look professional, or that it had less gameplay length, variety of monsters or number of locations than would ever have been accepted during the golden years, Fallout was the new king. And of course, since it was from Interplay and so was Baldur's Gate (the fact that it was being developed in an entirely different country apparently not even crossing anyone's mind), BG would going to blow us all away, right?

For some reason, I was still buying all the hype - perhaps the overwrought media machine surrounding my own project of the time had blinded me. I should not have been surprised when I finally got my hands on Baldur's Gate and saw what I actually been suckered into dreaming about. I had been picturing a world as seamless and interconnected as I had come to expect after Ultima VII, but instead I got this thing which was divided up into giant bitmaps of regular size, and when you left one, you traveled for eight hours through some mystical otherworld where the only thing that existed were wandering monsters to annoy you just when it was least convenient. And what of the amazing graphics, endlessly boasted as completely hand-made, not a tile in sight? Funny, I saw the same rock face and trees a couple hundred times as I walked through a the remarkably non-unique seeming landscapes. The false perspective which you soon saw existed only in the bitmap background and not in the actual world at all as creatures who looked to be standing on ground of completely different heights happily traded blows must have just been an illusion, too.

And of course there was nothing like wandering in to my first town and seeing the dozens of crates lined up next to a building, and discovering that they too were just part of the whole King's Quest-like scrolling bitmap background - and of course, only random ones which were absolutely indistinguishable from those around them could be opened. Too much trouble to actually make a consistent world - just slap that blue outline around one out of every twenty pictures of a barrel in the background and there you go. Never mind those puzzles in Ultima VII where after pawing through their contents you could build a staircase out of crates to get up to that room with the cool goodies - you won't even be going up to any second story windows you see, because as soon as you step inside a building you'll find that its inside doesn't even have any relation to its outside at all.

(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.