Stadia’s official unveiling at GDC 2019 was an exciting day. It gave us our first real look at the streaming service that Google was touting as “The Future of Gaming,” and – most importantly (for me, at least) – Divinity: Original Sin 2 studio Larian was deep in development on Baldur’s Gate 3.
One of the best developers in the role-playing business, working one of (if not the) most beloved RPG franchises ever, on a fascinating new platform that could revolutionize the way we consume games… it was a lot. Now, just under a year later, we’ve finally gotten an in-depth look at what Larian’s take on the D&D-verse of Baldur’s Gate looks like, as well as just where things stand between Larian and Stadia, how it’s implementing some of Stadia’s unique features, and what we can expect from its upcoming early access release.
The State of Stadia
“It’s new technology,” says Larian’s CEO Swen Vincke, speaking to IGN at a recent event where his team showed off nearly two hours of Baldur’s Gate 3 gameplay (it was awesome). “I think that they [Google] are committed to it and we’re going to still see very cool things come from them,” he continues. “They just need time… When Microsoft had just launched the Xbox, that wasn’t necessarily over roses either. Right? It’s very complicated to launch a new platform.”
The promise of Stadia is two-fold for Larian. First, there’s the business side – Stadia’s streaming and sharing features are a great pair for how complex, systems-based games like the ones Larian is known for become popular: word of mouth. “You talk to these people who say ‘I didn’t think it was for me, it looks like maybe a little bit too much,’” Swen says. “With something as easy as sending somebody a link and saying, ‘Hey, let’s try it out and you can jump into my game instantly without having to install anything,’ I think that has a very great conversion power.”
The other aspect is something that’s much more reliant on Stadia making good on its many promised features but, when they’re eventually released, could create a whole new dynamic for players who want to interact more with the communities they stream and play in. And it’s been heavily implied that there’s more to come: “The reason why I’m vague about this is I don’t even remember which one they announced and which ones they didn’t, Swen adds with a laugh.
Baldur’s Gate 3’s Stadia-Exclusive Content
BG3 may not be a Stadia exclusive, but Larian has big plans for that specific platform, leaning heavily into the community and streaming-focused concepts that Google is working to enable.
“Some of the Stadia features that we’re supporting are going to be specifically built around involving the community in the decision making,” Swen says. “Or letting them affect the dice, for instance. Now, it may sound like some sort of technical wizardry, letting someone watching a livestream hundreds or thousands of miles away change the outcome of your decision, but Stadia has been planning for developers to implement ideas like this since day one.
According to a developer blog post, the Stadia team is working on a feature called Crowd Choice — a tool that’s designed to let devs enable exactly the kind of interaction that Larian is focused on. It allows game developers to mark certain points in a game that, if the Crowd Choice mode is enabled, will trigger a poll that comes up somewhere in their stream’s chat window (we’re assuming this will be strictly a YouTube feature, at least for now).
This could be as simple as causing the stream to try to coerce the player into making a certain decision — to explore a tomb or the dangerous forest, for example — but the Stadia team also claims that the results of the polls can let a game’s programming “use these results to affect what’s happening in the game.” In the case of Baldur’s Gate, this could mean anything from, as Swen suggested, affecting how a player’s dice roll will turn out on a critical check, or perhaps altering the loot that you’ll find in a dungeon, or even choosing the dialogue for an NPC.
While there are some Twitch extensions that can achieve the same effect, they seem to be relegated solely to modded emulators for now — what Larian is looking to do with Stadia is much more involved and may be an entirely new way of enabling streamers to engage with their audiences.
Baldur’s Gate 3 Gameplay Screenshots
There are other social features planned for non-Stadia users, like the ability for players in a multiplayer party to see the choices you’re about to make (say, for example, if your high-elf vampire was trying to choose which party member to feed on while they slept). While we don’t know what this feature will look like, exactly, Stadia’s Stream Connect feature – which allows a team of players to see PiP feeds of each others screens – seems like a natural fit. Regardless of how it manifests, the ability to coordinate (or argue over) certain decisions could go a long way to helpLarian emulate the feeling of being at a table playing D&D with friends.
“It’s like tabletop,” says BG3’s lead writer, Adam Smith. “We want to give people the chance to just introduce chaos and we want to give people the chance to go into conflict with each other. I mean, there are so many things that we want to do that tabletop does that it’s very, very difficult to do because you can’t be as reactive and you can’t improvise as much, but we go as far as you can there.”
The big question, of course, is when will these features actually become available? The answer currently is a resounding “?,” since Stadia has been fairly quiet as of late when it comes to its roadmap and timeline, but it is possible that we’ll see some of them implemented when Baldur’s Gate 3 enters early access later this year.
Why Baldur’s Gate 3 Is Entering Early Access
It might not be the “Launch Window” release that Stadia initially promised – according to Larian, “Something was lost in translation there,” and the plan was always for Baldur’s Gate 3 to come out in early access first.
“When you’ve been working on something for years, and you’re this close to it, you’re kind of too close to it,” explains Matt Holland, one of the gameplay programmers on BG3. “We just aren’t sure, we can’t quite anticipate, where that’s going to be. Because if we could, we’d do it ourselves.”
As Swen explains it, “What we’re looking for is feedback from the people that are playing it to death and who are giving us really good ideas… then implementing [them] and seeing what works. We also want to see stuff that doesn’t work. In [Divinity: Original Sin 2], we found a lot of stuff that didn’t work during early access, and we changed it and modified it.”
What’s In Baldur’s Gate 3’s Early Access Build?
The full scope of Baldur’s Gate 3’s early access release hasn’t been revealed yet, but we know there’s going to be a lot to it.
According to Larian, the early access version will contain the opening area – what they’re referring to as “Act 1-A,” which consists of the two hours we played in our demo session plus “much more.” Swen says it will be more extensive than the early access build of Divinity Original Sin 2, which consisted of about eight to 12 hours of story gameplay, several character options, and even an early multiplayer build.
“It’s purely because of the amount of permutations that you have,” he says, explaining the amount of content coming in early access. “There’s so many ways of doing things now that just to cover it, we just have to put it all in there. Otherwise it doesn’t work.”
We know that we’ll see a litany of story paths and character options included in early access, as well. The demo we saw featured several potential race and class combinations and, depending on how far the level cap extends (and how faithfully the team has mirrored D&D’s current player advancement system), we may see some additional subclasses as well. Other character considerations, like whether to play as good or evil, or which of the many gods your Cleric prays to, for example, will be included, along with more class and character options being added as development continues.
In terms of when we can expect to get into Baldur’s Gate 3’s early access, we’ll have to wait a bit longer to find that out, since there isn’t a set release date for its launch. “We wanted to do it around now,” Swen laughs, “But we saw we weren’t going to make it, so we reserved the rights to give ourselves more time.”
JR is a Senior Editor at IGN, and is very much looking forward to infuriating his BG3 party members with his terrible decision making. You can cheer him on (or scold him appropriately) on Twitter.
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