Baldur's Gate II Announcement
On November 10, 1999, Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn was announced at the Wizards of the Coast Game Center in the University District of Seattle. This section provides an overview of the event and some pictures that I took while in Seattle. Shadows of Amn is expected to be released 3rd quarter 2000 (Fall) and I have summarized the title in the Baldur's Gate II section.
My flight arrived in Seattle from Virginia, at 10:30 am on the morning of the event and I shared a car with Scott Steinberg of the Adrenaline Vault to the hotel, conveniently located only a block away from the Wizards of the Coast Game Center in the University District. Although it started to rain, Scott and I decided to go to the Space Needle which provided a nice, but wet, overlook of the city. I then took the monorail to downtown and wandered through the quaint Pike Place Market. It was filled with small shops selling everything from fish and European pastries, to art and furniture. Walking down the Pike Hillclimb, I entered the Seattle Aquarium which had a Giant Octopus, many colourful invertebrates, a few seals and four fat sea otters. Although small, the aquarium was excellent. My next stop was the Seattle Art Museum which houses an eclectic collection including Native American, African, Asian and European art. They had an exceptional special exhibition "An American Century of Photography: From Dry-Plate to Digital". As it was getting late, I walked all the way back to the Space Needle and caught a cab back to the hotel (Seattle has terrible traffic).
At 5:30, we trekked over to the Game Center which was closed for the day for this private party. As you enter, there is a Wizards of the Coast Store on the right, the Arcade on the left and stairs leading down straight ahead. We went downstairs where cocktails were served and you had a chance to meet everyone. John Gallagher (Director of Conceptual Art) was the first person I talked with and he told me an interesting story about how he figured out a way to make the outdoor areas more dense. He was stacking blocks with his three-year old daughter when he became aware that the overlapping steps could be used in two-dimensional backgrounds; thus, the city Athkatla is based on a tiered design. I then chatted with Marcia Tofer (Art Director), Dean Anderson (Senior Artist), Luke Kristjanson (Senior Writer), Greg "Big Tuna" Peterson (Marketing Head) and Ray Muzyka (joint CEO), who wasn't feeling well that night and left early. At least sixty developers and journalists were there that evening.
Around 6:30, everyone was asked to have a seat and we were introduced to Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn by viewing a movie trailer for it. Feargus Urquhart (Black Isle Studios Director) made a few opening remarks and introduced Ryan Dancey (Vice President, TSR) who expressed Wizards of the Coast's happiness with the Baldur's Gate series and welcomed everyone to the Game Center. Next, Ray Muzyka indicated that the have been working on Baldur's Gate II since January and introduced James Ohlen (Director of Writing and Design) and then later Ben Smedstad (Producer at BioWare) and Chris Parker (Producer at BIS), each of whom described the features of Baldur's Gate II, which everyone is now aware of. Slides accompanying the presentation displayed concept art and gameplay screens, some of which has since been made public, others such as the Drow city, which have not. The presentation was concluded with each person from the development team being announced.
After dinner, we could go upstairs to be shown a demo of Baldur's Gate II on one of twelve computers. My guide was John Gallagher. We started off going through the new options in character creation. It follows the same method as before but additional depth has been added; you can choose half-orc as a race and one of at least three kits for each class, besides the standard version. We rolled up a gnome swashbuckler (thief kit) with a charisma of 3. The thieves' skills have been expanded so we were able to distribute points amongst Move Silently, Find Traps, Pick Pockets, Open Locks, Hide in Shadows, Detect Illusion and Set Traps. The proficiency system has also been redone so now instead of groups of weapons you are proficient in a single weapon and more weapons have been added, like the katana and blackjack. Furthermore, fighting styles have been introduced: one-handed weapon, two-handed weapon, weapon and shield, brawling and two-weapon (not just for Drizzt anymore). You select the fighting style as you would any other proficiency. By introducing more complexity, it allows characters to develop more naturally instead of being masters of everything like they were at the end of Tales of the Sword Coast (e.g. 99% in most thieving skills).
Next, John loaded up a saved game and we wandered around the city a little. The background art is beautiful, several times better than what was seen in Tales of the Sword Coast. The capital city of Amn, Athkatla, has a Byzantine look that is reminiscent of the Italian renaissance. The city is more dense, the streets more narrow and the detail much greater than Baldur's Gate. Despite the tight paths, the characters were much better at pathfinding and none decided to take the familiar "long way". They now bounce off each other and push their way through the crowd. The interiors are equally as nice especially some of the temples and the paladin's Order of the Radiant Heart. With the default resolution now 800x600, you are presented with more to view at.