Baldur’s Gate Reloaded Mod: DIY and the Power of Science
It’s been more than a decade since Baldur’s Gate and its sequel were released, and in that time the titles have become some of the most beloved role-playing games to ever grace the PC. The series was unmatched in its storytelling, but the medium has a whole has since moved on from sprites and painted backdrops. So too have individuals like Drew Rechner, whose project—Baldur’s Gate: Reloaded—took over five years and a small team of dedicated developers to complete. He sought to deliver a current-gen experience with old school storytelling by porting (if it can be called that) Baldur’s Gate into Neverwinter Nights 2′s engine.
Rechner started work on Baldur’s Gate: Reloaded in October of 2006 when the Neverwinter Nights 2 Toolset was released early for those who pre-ordered the game. Rechner says that he worked on the project in spurts over the years. That said, he did start creating some of the conversations and scripts in the first Neverwinter Nights in order to import them into NWN2 well before that.
“Mostly though, I worked a couple hours on it most weeknights and weekends. When I started the project, I was still in college so I probably spent way more time than I should have on it instead of studying (sorry, Mom and Dad!),” says Rechner. No mere modder, Rechner has real experience in the game industry as a former game designer at TimeGate Studios. Rechner worked on Section 8, Section 8: Prejudice, and Aliens: Colonial Marines.
Unfortunately, he says he was let go along with 20-25 other developers a couple months before TimeGate closed its doors. “I was fortunate enough to have been offered a job outside of the game industry immediately following my departure from TimeGate, but I’ve been largely using that as a way to ‘pay the bills’ while I search for another industry job outside of Houston since it really doesn’t have any other game developers.”
Rechner says that he started the project on his own and worked on it “pretty much by myself for the first several years,” until Shallina, the project’s Lead Scripter, came on-board and had a huge impact. ”Major systems were scripted by Shallina and the first implementation of most quests and encounters were implemented by her too. The work she did is outstanding and I truly don’t think this project would have been completed without her hard work,” says Rechner.
Other members of the team include Greg “ArtEChoke” Schneider, who created the Gibberling and Doppelganger models as well as Sarevok’s helmet, Andy Kasten, who hooked up a lot of the VO and lip-sync, and Sébastien Raymond, who created a first draft of some of the interior areas in the game.
According to Rechner, the team incorporated a lot of the custom content from the NWN2 community. ”I think, in some respects, Baldur’s Gate: Reloaded is very much a community piece—a collaboration of the community that displays some of the best it has to offer.”
From how Rechner tells it, Baldur’s Gate Reloaded had been in development long before Dragon Age: Origins had anything to show for itself, with the exception of a few screenshots. “NWN2 seemed like the perfect engine because it provided a lot more control than NWN, especially of exterior areas and some aspects of scripting, and it was based on the D&D ruleset, which would make it easy to translate Baldur’s Gate to the new engine despite using different editions. DAO, on the other hand, was not based on D&D and would thus take a bit more creativity and altering to get it to translate well, which could be very exciting in its own right,” says Rechner.
“I think DAO is a great engine and has a lot of awesome aspects to it; the cutscene camera controls, the animation system, and the gameplay are all extremely well-done.”
How hard was it to port the thousands of lines of dialogue and stuff over to NWN2? “Extremely tedious work,” says Rechner. “Before I knew about tools such as Infinity Explorer or Near Infinity, I would manually write down dialog in a notebook and then type it into the game. In fact, almost every conversation in the Prologue of the game was done that way, which was terribly inefficient. Later, I found the aforementioned tools and was able to use those, which were incredibly helpful at not only figuring out all the different dialog tree options, but also how everything was scripted. Eventually, an invaluable tool called the ‘Infinity Engine conversation converter’ was created by community member Sothis B for NWN2, which made extracting the text for all the conversations quick and simple. Scripting was still done manually though, and Shallina handled a lot of the dialog scripting for most of the project.”