Baldur’s Gate Reloaded Mod: DIY and the Power of Science
Like porting the lines, scripting the entire game was equally challenging, but he had the help of Shallina. As Rechner tells it, Shallina is not only a “gifted scripter and programmer,” but she also has an incredible work ethic—necessary for a project of this magnitude. “There were many people who offered to join the project, but never stuck around to complete anything, which is probably what most sane people would do. Shallina, however, was able to stick with the project for many years and was able to accomplish some really cool things, some of which have never been done in NWN or NWN2 before.
“For me, I started the project with a basic understanding of C++, but really little else. Luckily, there was a tool called Lilac Soul’s NWN Script Generator, originally developed for NWN which made scripting incredibly easy and I used that for the about the first year of development. In fact, if you look at some of the scripts in the Prologue of the game, you can probably see the header from this program. After using this tool and following lots of experimentation, I became much more comfortable and confident with scripting and eventually was able to write my own systems for the game and polished a lot of the quest scripting work that Shallina completed.”
I asked Rechner what he thought of newer tools like Neverwinter’s Foundry, or whether he preferred traditional mod tools. “I think tools like Neverwinter’s Foundry or Halo’s Forge are great for the community, and to a much lesser extent, visual scripting tools such as Unreal Kismet also fulfill the same role. Not only do these tools allow players to create their own content, which can be expensive to produce especially in quantities consumed by multiplayer gamers, but it also provides an extremely accessible avenue for players to get into modding and thus game development.”
Rechner believes modding is important to gaming not only because it builds bonds between community members, but also between developers and the community at large. Modding also provides great training, he says, for entering the game industry, and some of the best members of the industry got their start in the scene. “While incredibly positive for the industry in numerous ways, an unfortunate side effect of the increasing focus and sales of console games has somewhat put modding on the sideline, but there are still plenty of great developers and publishers out there that acknowledge its importance.”
“I learned scripting, 2D and 3D art tools, animation, level design, and project management solely from this experience,” says Rechner. “My experience in the game industry did help, however. Perhaps most notably, I learned what quality-level we should be striving towards, and how much work it takes to reach that level. Certainly, we had to strike a balance between quality and getting the game done, but I think we managed to hit a pretty high quality bar considering the game’s enormous scope and our extremely small team size. In general, the skills learned as a Game Designer also got me thinking constantly about feedback to the player and player education/accessibility, though the former is something I think we could have improved upon even more provided we had additional time.”
What does Rechner expect to get out of this? From what he says, Rechner had a couple of motivations for creating the mod in the first place. ”First, I absolutely loved both Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II and personally really wanted to see the games in 3D,” says Rechner. “I think this was partly influenced by playing both Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Neverwinter Nights 1 and seeing how great an RPG could be in 3D. I also really wanted to learn how to make games and the NWN Toolset was fairly accessible, even more so with the incredibly helpful community that surrounded it.
“Later in development, I had a drive to finish what I started. I can remember reading a blog written by Cliff Bleszinski that said one of the most impressive things to a game developer is seeing that someone can finish a project they started, especially since the beginning is always fun and easy, but finishing it can be frustrating and hard. I’m probably horribly misquoting him here, but his overall message definitely stuck with me. I also absolutely love making games and the entire process was extremely gratifying, though difficult at times. It was during these difficult times that the community provided a lot of encouragement which really kept the project moving forward. The goal then became to give something back to the community for all their support.”
A fan at heart, Rechner has yet to be contacted by anyone at BioWare, but he says that he hopes to hear from them to know what they think about his efforts, especially the developers who worked on the original or on Baldur’s Gate 2. “I’ve been a huge fan of Bioware since BG, following their blogs and participating in their communities, and have played and loved every one of their titles. In fact, I think half of my posters and figurines I displayed on my desk at TimeGate were from Bioware games (and many of the others were probably from Obsidian)!”
Now that the mod is done, Rechner says he’s going to take a short break from modding to just play games uninterrupted. “I generally play just about every major release as it comes out, though the past couple years of working on Baldur’s Gate: Reloaded have really limited me to only playing 2-3 hours of each game, save for a few ‘special’ ones that I actually get to complete. I still haven’t finished Mass Effect 3 for example, not to mention the outstanding Bioshock: Infinite or the excellent Tomb Raider reboot!”
Rechner plans to return to modding, but for now, he’d like to create a small, “but extremely polished” original mod for Neverwinter Nights 2 before moving on to other engines. He says that he learned quite a bit about NWN2 during the development of Baldur’s Gate: Reloaded and would love to do something “a little wacky and different” without the constraints of trying to finish a mountain of content.
You can grab Baldur’s Gate: Reloaded here.