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Dark Alliance Interview - Baldur’s Gate Triumphantly Returns to Consoles
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 03:38pm 25/02/20 | Comments
Baldur's Gate is coming back in a big way, we sit down with Jeff Hattem, Studio Head of Tuque Games, the Wizards of the Coast studio behind Dark Alliance and talk about Dungeons & Dragons coming back to consoles.

The computer RPG which dates back to the era where we first saw Fallout, Baldur’s Gate, and Planescape Torment – was a genre associated with rules born from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Numbers-driven combat, dice rolls determining success, and in-depth character customisation alongside rich fantasy worlds to explore. A time when platform, be it PC or a console, dictated the style of RPG you’d tend to find.

In 2001, Snowblind Studios and Black Isle Studios released Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance for PlayStation 2 and the original Xbox – a game that took the rich character driven fantasy of the Baldur’s Gate series and computer RPGs and blended it with the sort of fast-paced action of the action-RPG or hack-and-slash genre. A ground-breaking release that was easy to pick-up and play but also didn’t forsake complexity for simplicity. In fact, it was one of the first real-time implementations of the complex Dungeons & Dragons ruleset.

Retaining the isometric top-down view of the Baldur’s Gate series, the co-op and action focus saw Dark Alliance become an almost overnight success – introducing many to the concept of RPGs, character progression, and gaming in a Dungeons & Dragons inspired world. A sequel followed in 2004, but soon after the series went away. Seemingly forever.

Until now of course. With Wizard of the Coast looking to being back Dungeons & Dragons in a big way, we’re on the cusp of getting to play two new titles in the Baldur’s Gate series. Baldur’s Gate 3, which follows in the footsteps of the BioWare originals, and Dark Alliance, an action-packed spiritual successor to the popular console series with a story that focuses on some of D&D’s most iconic characters.

Recently we had the chance to chat with Jeff Hattem, Studio Head of Tuque Games, the Wizards of the Coast studio behind Dark Alliance and talk about bringing back Baldur’s Gate to consoles.

The Dark Alliance announcement trailer which debuted recently

What was the inception of Dark Alliance, and how did the project begin? What were some of those key elements that made it feel like – “Yes, this needs to become a game”?

It’s been quite the journey! A lot of us at Tuque grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons and reading the Forgotten Realms novels from R.A. Salvatore. We initially thought about making a Dark Alliance game back when the studio first formed in 2013, but it wasn’t until 2017 when we created the prototype and pitched it to Wizards of the Coast. After we pitched the prototype, it became clear they were on board with the idea and that we all had the same goal of creating an epic co-op action RPG set in the Forgotten Realms with Drizzt and his companions.

Dark Alliance brings well-known characters from the D&D universe and is set in the iconic location of Icewind Dale – how did the team decide or land on these characters and this location?

Drizzt is one of the most iconic characters in D&D lore, and there’s a ton of rich history to pull from. Drizzt’s companions, each with their own unique combat skills, are crucial for taking down enemies. Icewind Dale is a very harsh and unforgiving place. We wanted to recapture that feeling of accomplishment that you get when working with your friends when you take down an enemy together. For all of those reasons, Icewind Dale was the perfect setting and Drizzt and his companions made for the perfect cast of characters for a four-person action co-op game.

Drizzt is a fan favourite, how has it been making him the star of his own game – and how has that journey been to create, well, a videogame version of the character? How did the process of coming up with the party evolve, where things like the need for diverse gameplay/classes and feel need to be considered?

We pulled from the source material of R.A. Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms series of books, so choosing Drizzt and his companions was a natural choice. Wulfgar, Bruenor, and Catti-Brie each have their own special skills in combat that lend themselves nicely to a cooperative game. As for Drizzt, he’s such an iconic character in D&D lore, we’re not sure why he hasn’t been the star of a video game yet and are excited to be the studio that gets to do it.

The co-op action-RPG is something that has evolved quite steadily over the years – going into Dark Alliance what are some of the main drivers or elements of this genre that you feel will be best represented in the game?

Developing our first game, Livelock, taught us a lot about making a game with co-op play as the focus. The combat in Dark Alliance really shines during co-op. There are some cool combinations where one player can make an enemy vulnerable to attacks from their allies, and the whole thing feels kind of like when you pull off an epic alley-oop in basketball.

The reveal trailer only teased gameplay but there seems to be a shift away from the isometric viewpoint of the original games –what led to this decision?

The vision for the trailer was to communicate the fast-paced action RPG elements of the game. For Dark Alliance, we’ve made the creative choice to use a third-person camera instead of the expected isometric view in order to create the feeling that you’re in the middle of combat. The tighter camera makes it easier for players to identify monster attacks, and to determine the best way to block and defend against them.

Dungeons & Dragons, as a setting/franchise has been mostly absent from the console space and this looks to put an end to that in a big way – what is it about the iconic D&D setting that serves as a great one to set a game in?

We’d argue that a lot of RPGs and their gameplay mechanics were inspired by D&D, even if they aren’t direct references to D&D itself. When you’re playing a tabletop RPG, each person in the party has a job to do and they have combat skills that are unique to them. When you gather all these different skills and talents, it makes for an unstoppable party of characters with limitless possibilities for handling combat and taking down enemies together. It’s a natural fit for a co-op action RPG.

Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance released at a time when the western RPG was still seen as this PC-only thing. By introducing fast-paced gameplay and keeping lite-RPG elements it quickly became a success. What elements do you feel were the strongest from the original that would still resonate today (when work began on Dark Alliance)?

Dark Alliance is very much a spiritual successor to the original Dark Alliance games. Part of the reason we think the original Dark Alliance games were so successful is because they were accessible to more people. We want to capture that accessibility in our game and introduce new audiences to D&D, just like the original games did.

Thanks to Jeff Hattem, Toque Games, and Wizards of the Coast for taking the time.
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