Hyped RPG Baldur’s Gate 3 Took 6 Years To Make: It’s Huge

Baldur’s Gate III director Swen Vincke doesn’t think the sprawling fantasy role-playing game would exist if the team behind it, Larian Studios, had been gobbled up by another game company. “It would have been canned, guaranteed,” he told me during a recent interview. “There’s no way that a big publisher would have allowed us to do what we’ve done because it’s crazy.”

The blockbuster RPG attempts to take the dense turn-based combat and branching choices Larian is known for from hits like Divinity: Original Sin 2 and wrap them around the world and rules of Dungeons & Dragons brought to life by cutscenes that include the voice talents of actors like J.K. Simmons (Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films) and Jason Isaacs (the Harry Potter movies). Mind flayers—octopus-like humanoids with psychic powers—are invading the land, and have infected several heroes with parasites that can transform them into mind flayers as well. The titular metropolis of Baldur’s Gate then serves as a staging ground for adventures and intrigue as the heroes try to remove the parasites as war threatens the land once again.

It sounds simple enough but Larian doesn’t do simple. Divinity: Original Sin 2 took just two to three years to make, and Larian thought it might be similar this time around. “We figured it out, how to make this type of RPG, so let’s just do it again with Baldur’s Gate III, we’ll just add cinematics to it, right?” Vincke said. “And then we’ll just convert the [D&D] Player’s Handbook, let’s do that too. And then we’ve got to have all these narratives and all these permutations and all these long-term choices, let’s do everything bigger and better. So it grew exponentially.”

Originally teased at E3 2019, the game’s first act eventually came out on PC in early access in 2020. While just one small part of the game, it represents over two dozen hours of gameplay, and fans have been pushing its limits for years now. That collaboration has helped Larian with testing out certain ideas and balancing them in real time as if the game was already out, but most of Baldur’s Gate III’s campaign has actually remained under wraps. And even now, just a month before launch, Larian is still revealing new content.

A community update published today confirmed a level cap of 12 (which is high in D&D terms), a new “Origin” character named Karlach—one of the heroes players can choose to play as if they decide to forgo making a custom character—as well as additional races (Dragonborn and Half-Orc) and more classes and subclasses. As Larian is quick to point out, there are double the number of races, classes, player spells, and passive talents here than those found in Divinity: Original Sin 2. And on top of balancing all of those abilities and nuances for combat and in-game player choice, Baldur’s Gate III apparently features three times as much dialogue as the Lord of the Rings trilogy and cinematic scenes that, in total, run twice the length of the entirety of Game of Thrones.

What Makes Baldur’s Gate III A Larian RPG

But the key to a Larian RPG, and what made people fall in love with Divinity: Original Sin 2, is that the studio doesn’t just add stuff for the sake of adding stuff. Each addition feels curated and considered so as to create a world that feels reactive to players choices and overwhelming in its depth and detail. Often this means anticipating what a player might want to do and then figuring out a way to actually deliver on the promise of that possibility.

“It’s possible to be turned into a cheese wheel in this game,” Vincke said. “And so you are going to travel as a cheese wheel and it looks like you’re playing Pac-Man. So we’re just gonna go through the game and you will 100 percent accept and you will 100 percent understand why you became a cheese wheel and it will be your agency that causes you to become a cheese wheel, right? But it will still surprise you that that’s what happens.”

Baldur’s Gate 3 World Premiere Trailer | Summer Game Fest 2023

He elaborated that the same situation could also go another way and transport players to Chult, a D&D realm populated by dinosaurs. “[Players] will have figured out the cheese then and say, ‘I wonder what happens if I do this [other thing]?’” he continued. “And then they’ll go and do it? And then they’ll say, ‘Now I’ve got you Larian,’ and they’ll do it, and then ‘Fuck?!’ And it’s beautiful and it’s that level of development—we had that in the previous games also—that’s the first thing that gets caught.”

Vinke, who cofounded Larian back in 1996, said this is what staying independent has allowed the studio to do. With a team of over 200 people across half a dozen offices, it’s no small startup anymore. Larian was even included on a recently disclosed list of possible acquisition targets by Microsoft, which Vincke called “flattering.” But if Larian ever did get bought, it probably wouldn’t still be able to make games like Baldur’s Gate III. “A publisher would probably call [the cheese wheel] feature creep and I will say, ‘Hey, well done scripter.’”

Vinke estimates that only 0.1 percent of players would naturally end up in Baldur’s Gate III’s version of Jurassic Park via the cheese wheel moment. And when pressed about the total amount of the game players might experience in their first playthrough, he suggested maybe only 30 percent or less. Most players don’t even finish the games they start, let alone beat them multiple times to experience all of the alternate paths and roads not taken. This is part of what makes Baldur’s Gate III such an absurd business proposition but also such a tantalizing prospect for fans who have been waiting for it for years now.

“I like the city [of Baldur’s Gate], I really do,” Vinke said, despite calling RPG cities “bloody hard” to make. “In every single house I enter there’s an adventure waiting for me. They’re all different.” He said with the PC version of the game basically ready, the team has just been going over it with a final pass of polish, adding small details here and there to the citizens’ tables and cupboards for an extra little bit of environmental storytelling. “I expect plenty of people to launch fireballs in Baldur’s Gate from a rooftop just to see what’s going to happen,” Vinke said.

Nightmare Giga Roller Coaster Closes After Fan Spots Huge Crack

Amusement park rides scare the shit out of me. I have a fear of heights, and moving fast, and just about everything associated with roller coasters. But I can usually still persuade myself to get on one every now and then, secure in the knowledge that surely the ride would not be up and running if it weren’t absolutely safe. Which is why what happened at the Fury 325 “Giga Coaster” in Charlotte, North Carolina on Sunday is so terrifying.

Standing 325 feet tall with an 81-degree initial drop and a top speed of 95 miles an hour, the Fury 325 is the main attraction at the Carowinds amusement park. It would probably be really cool if one of the support pillars didn’t have a clean break running through it so much so that you can actually see the entire thing move as people fly by it at a perpendicular angle.

It was seemingly first spotted by Jeremy Wagner, a season pass holder whose daughter and niece had apparently ridden the Fury 325 eight times on July 2 before the crack was spotted. It wasn’t until Wagner was headed back to get his car from the parking lot that he noticed the catastrophic failure, recorded a video of it, and rushed to warn Carowinds employees about the danger.

“I was like, ‘Y’all need to shut this ride down,” Wagner told the first one he found, according to The Washington Post. “That’s bad news.” Worried about that employee’s “lack of urgency,” Wagner went to tell a second person in Park Services. Still concerned, he tried calling the amusement park on the car ride home but only got the automated system. Finally, he called the local fire department, who then spoke to the park security team, and later confirmed to Wagner that the ride had been shut down.

“Safety is our top priority and we appreciate the patience and understanding of our valued guests during this process,” Carowinds spokesperson Courtney Weber told The Washington Post in a statement. “As part of our comprehensive safety protocols, all rides, including Fury 325, undergo daily inspections to ensure their proper functioning and structural integrity.”

For his part, Wagner isn’t ditching his season pass anytime soon. He’s apparently going to let his kids ride the roller coaster when it reopens, though who knows when that will be. The North Carolina Department of Labor is also involved now, and its Amusement Device Bureau “will be investigating and plan to be at Carowinds on Monday,” department spokesperson Erin Wilson told The New York Times.

As you might be able to guess, the pre-4th of July holiday weekend is a busy time for amusement parks, Carowinds included. Guests won’t be able to ride the Fury 325 right now, but the rest of the park remains open. I’m sure everyone will enjoy scanning every pillar, platform, and bit of scaffolding for major damage while they stand in line.


Huge (Sometimes Tragic) Trove Of Sega Docs From The ’90s Leaked

While Microsoft’s FTC case has let the world catch a glimpse behind the scenes at a modern platform holder’s emails, at the same time an enormous treasure trove of old Sega documents from the ‘90s have leaked, and they go a long way to explaining…well, why Sega isn’t a platform holder anymore.

The documents, collected and uploaded to Sega Retro, are a mixed bag of everything from E3 floor plans to financial results. Some of the highlights, though, are internal emails, like this one from March 1996 where former Sega of America CEO Tom Kalinsky writes about the Sega Saturn vs Sony’s PlayStation, a fight that did not end the way it started:

It is one thing to hear/read about how well we are doing in Japan vs. Sony, it’s another to personally witness it. I just visited 10 retail stores in Tokyo (most in Akihabra); it’s now spring break so the crowds of teens/college kids are huge. We are killing Sony. In every store, Saturn hardware is sold out and there are stacks of Playstation. The retailers commented they can’t compare the true sales rate because Saturn sells out before they can measure accurately. Our interactive displays are better, our software displays and stocking far superior. It is not unusual to see 40-50 copies of Panzer Zwei or Virtua Fighter 2 stocked in even small stores and they are selling fast. I wish I could get all our staff, sales people, retailers, analysts, media, etc. to see and understand what’s happening in Japan; they would then understand why we will win here in the U.S. eventually.

How do we show that at E3?

To be fair to Tom, in the earliest days of 1994-95 the Saturn—buoyed by the popularity of Virtua Fighter—did indeed outsell the PlayStation in Japan! That success was only short-lived, however, and by the time Final Fantasy VII dropped in 1997 Sony’s console was out of sight, making Kalinsky’s “We are killing Sony” line one of the most poorly-aged in video game history.

In another document, here’s Kalinsky again, cutting a more forlorn figure in April 1996 as he makes extra clear the Saturn’s new $249 pricepoint—an attempt to undercut Sony’s famous $299 launch price for the PlayStation—while also wondering what the hell is going on with with the “Hare Krishna cult members” in a Saturn TV commercial:

Image for article titled Huge (Sometimes Tragic) Collection Of Sega Documents From The '90s Have Leaked

Here’s the commercial, if you’ve never seen it:

LA ZONA BLANCA – 1996 Sega Saturn TV Spot – “Nothing Else Matters” Campaign

Also interesting are a range of marketing strategies for 1997, which give an insight into the kind of battle Sega was facing by that stage of the Saturn’s launch; while some ideas are built on selling the Saturn on its own strengths, like Sega’s first-party games, there’s a lot of stuff that’s just obsessed with Sony’s plans, reacting to Sony’s pricing, trying to pre-empt Sony’s release schedule…it really speaks to a company that by 1997 is playing catch-up in nearly every way possible.

Image for article titled Huge (Sometimes Tragic) Collection Of Sega Documents From The '90s Have Leaked

Moving on, here’s a list of Sega’s “critical software issues” facing the Saturn in the 97 financial year, and they are brutally honest, calling out Psygnosis, talking mad shit about (the famously hellish) Heart of Darkness and wondering just how many of these games are going to be ready to show at E3:

Image for article titled Huge (Sometimes Tragic) Collection Of Sega Documents From The '90s Have Leaked

If you want to read the full document dump, it’s available here, and aside from the kind of stuff I’ve posted above also includes a range of cereal promotion box art, sales records and even internal emails lamenting how terrible Sega’s sports output had become.

And if reading through any of this has you feeling like Sega was a company in trouble, remember that a lot of these documents are from 1997. Sega would be out of the console business entirely just four years later, in 2001.

The Last of Us Dev Naughty Dog Is About To Hit A Huge Shake-Up

Neil Druckmann is shown being interviewed.

Screenshot: Max / Kotaku

Naughty Dog, the developer behind The Last of Us and Uncharted, is about to undergo a pretty big shakeup in leadership. Co-president Evan Wells has announced he’ll be retiring, and co-president and Last of Us director Neil Druckmann will be the sole president of the company moving forward.

Wells wrote about his departure on the studio’s website, saying he’s retiring from the studio after 25 years, but that he’s confident in Druckmann and the rest of Naughty Dog’s current management to lead the company in his absence.

“The decision brings with it overwhelming and conflicting emotions, but I’ve come to realize that I’m content with my time at the studio and all that we’ve accomplished together over the last 25 years,” Wells wrote. “I couldn’t be more confident in Neil’s ability to carry on running the studio. It’s the right time for me to provide the opportunity for him and the others on the Studio Leadership Team to steer the studio into a successful future.”

Wells has worked at Naughty Dog since 1998. After a stint at Crystal Dynamics working on the Gex series, Wells joined the studio as a lead designer on Crash Bandicoot: Warped, then worked on the Jak series, ultimately stepping into the co-president role in 2004. Meanwhile, Druckmann joined the studio in 2004 as a programmer on the Jak series, moving into writing roles on the Uncharted series before becoming a director for The Last of Us games. He stepped into the co-president role in 2020.

What’s unclear now is if Naughty Dog will have Druckmann remain as the sole president and head of creative of the company, or if it will hire or move someone to Wells’ position in the future. Wells was co-president at Naughty Dog for most of his stint at the top of the studio, though in 2017 when Christophe Balestra retired as co-president, Wells was the sole acting president until Druckmann’s promotion in 2020. So it’s not unheard of for the studio to have a single president.

Alongside whatever Naughty Dog is working on, Druckmann is currently working with Max on the Emmy-nominated Last of Us live-action TV series as director and co-writer. So he’s pretty busy these days.

Naughty Dog’s last new game was 2020’s The Last of Us Part II, after which it released a PS5 remake of the original PS3 game. It’s also working on a multiplayer game set in its post-apocalyptic universe, but has yet to show the project to the public.

Xbox Leak Hints At Cost Of Bringing Huge Games To Game Pass

Starfield was supposed to be Microsoft’s biggest release of 2022. When it ended up getting delayed, the company looked into striking deals with third-party publishers like Electronic Arts and Ubisoft for major blockbusters it could bring to Game Pass day-and-date to fill the gap. A new internal email exchange leaked from the Federal Trade Commission trial earlier this year shows exactly how much Microsoft thought those deals might be worth, giving us our best sense yet of what it costs to secure blockbusters like Star Wars Jedi: Survivor and Grand Theft Auto V on the Netflix-like subscription service.

“This is really a disaster sistuation for us given all we’ve invested in content across studios at our GP content fund,” Phil Spencer wrote to fellow Xbox exectuives in a May 7 email. He was referring to Bethesda’s open world sci-fi RPG Starfield, whose delay at the time threatened to leave a 16-month hole in the Xbox first-party exclusive release calendar just two years into the Xbox Series X/S’s life-cycles.

Sarah Bond, Microsoft’s VP of gaming business development, responded to the discussion later in the month with a breakdown of major third-party games expected to arrive throughout 2022 and early 2023 that could make a big splash on Game Pass. Those included everything from Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga to Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, including an analysis of how many hours each game was likely to be played on Game Pass, how much it would cost to get the game on the service, and whether the publisher who owned it would be likely to make a deal.

Here’s the full list of estimates:

  • Lego Star Wars: $35 million
  • Dying Light 2: $50 million
  • Cities: Skylines 2: unknown
  • Red Dead Redemption 2: $5 million per month
  • Dragon Ball: The Breakers: $20 million
  • Just Dance: $5 million
  • Return to Monkey Island: $5 million
  • Wreckfest 2: $10-$14 million
  • Baldur’s Gate 3: $5 million
  • Gotham Knights: $50 million
  • Assassin’s Creed Mirage: $100 million
  • Suicide Squad: $250 million
  • Star Wars Jedi: Survivor: $300 million
  • Mortal Kombat 1: $250 million
  • Grand Theft Auto V: $12-$15 million per month
  • Blood Runner: $5 million
  • Net Crisis Glitch Busters: $5 million

The estimates vary wildly depending on the size of the release as well as whether it would be day-and-date on the service. Notably, some games like Assassin’s Creed Mirage and Suicide Squad ended up getting delayed (the latter still doesn’t have a new release date). It’s also funny to see Baldur’s Gate 3, one of the biggest games of 2023, low-balled at just $5 million (it’s out on PlayStation 5 now but delayed on Xbox due to issues with the Series S version).

Bond also notes that games like Suicide Squad and Mortal Kombat were unlikely to come to Game Pass due to corporate tumult at Warner Bros. following the merger with Discovery. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor also appeared to be off the table. Gotham Knights and Assassin’s Creed Mirage were considered much more viable and cost-effective deals. And indeed, while not day-and-date, Lego Star Wars did end up coming to Game Pass on December 1 of last year. Today, Microsoft officially announced Gotham Knights is arriving as well.

Companies like Activision (soon to be acquired by Microsoft) and Sony have been critical of day-and-date deals with subscription services, claiming it devalues games sold for $70. The PS5-maker has specificaly said it won’t bring blockbusters like Spider-Man 2 to its competitor, PS Plus, until years later to avoid cannibalizing sales, arguing that the economics aren’t sustainable for high-quality first-party exclusives. Microsoft has disagreed, promoting services like Game Pass as a way to introduce games to bigger audiences and claiming that it actually increases how much subscribers spend on the platform.

Spencer’s email exchange with Bond ends on a note about what ended up being the biggest game of 2022. “Another option with the hit factor around Elden Ring is to try to get all of the Dark Souls games and make a push with [FromSoftware] and an Elden Ring upsell,” Spencer wrote. “Like that one,” Bond wrote back. “Will do.” It’s not clear if Microsoft is still pursuing that deal.


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