Larian Studios has an absolute hit on its hands with Baldur’s Gate 3. The Dungeons & Dragons-based CRPG sold millions of copies, has legions of fans, and we called it a “staggering CRPG with a level of player freedom that makes its possibilities feel endless” in our review. It’s currently being considered a “Game of the Year” frontrunner ahead of this December’s Game Awards — a massive feat considering stiff competition from The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Starfield, Resident Evil 4and more.
Pro Well Tech met up with Swen Vincke, CEO of Larian Studios at PAX West 2023 to discuss the game’s success. In a wide-ranging conversation, Vincke offered transparency on how the team approached open-ended player choice, the specific challenges of bringing it to Xbox Series S, and what sort of new content they’ve already started working on. The team may say it’s resting after a long development journey, but there’s much more work to do.
Pro Well Tech: Both critical and commercial responses for Baldur’s Gate 3 have been enormous. Is this at all what you expected?
Swen Vincke: No, this is better than expected. We knew we had a good game in our hands. We knew that from the reactions in Early Access already. That allowed us to actually make the crazy investments that we did in this. Look at the amount of content I mean, it’s 170 hours of cinematics and very high-quality levels.
And three full years of early access.
Yeah, but it needed it. We weren’t ready, we just needed that time to do it. I mean, it was longer than we expected. But it’s also because of the community reactions during Early Access. There were moments when this game was rating 70% because people were not happy with the choices that we were making. So we have to adapt. But that takes time.
That’s what I liked about Early Access. You get that loop going on with your community where you can have that “okay, well, we tried that you didn’t like it.” Then you adapt. And sometimes it takes more time. Sometimes it takes less time.
Series S, if we can make it work on split screen, we will make it work.
How was preparing for a console game different from preparing for PC?
Well, there’s a whole bunch of preparation steps that you have to do that you don’t have to do on PC because you have to submit it to Sony. And Sony then has to say, “Well, this is okay, this is not okay.” So it takes much more time. It has the benefit that it’s one piece of hardware, you don’t have to worry about all the platforms, which makes it easier. So then obviously, we have to adapt the control scheme, which is completely different than a mouse and keyboard. We already have control support on PC. So that made it easier.
The other big console topic of conversation has been an Xbox version. There’s been rumblings about some behind-closed-doors conversation at Gamescom with the Xbox team, can you share any insights about that?
We both wanted to bring it to Xbox, and we needed to figure out how to do it. The solution that we found, I think it’s the best one because that allows us to bring it to the [Xbox] players faster. So it’s going to come to Series X and S this year. We’re trying to do it as fast as possible. We were fairly far in the process already. So the only reason we’ve held it is because we had this problem with split screen and Series S. It won’t have a split screen on Series S when we launch it. We will keep on optimizing it, Microsoft is really being helpful with that, so we’ll just try and see where we get.
We don’t make any promises, because there are certain limits that we may hit. The game is very intense, it requires a lot. Even on PC, we’ve had to do a lot of optimizations and continue to do those optimizations. So I think the Xbox version will be good. Series S, if we can make it work on split screen, we will make it work.
Is there a specific technical limitation on the Series S that makes split screen difficult?
It’s the memory. It’s all about memory. In split screen, we have to simulate two parts of the world. And so not only that, but if you’re playing multiplayer, the consoles are also the host. It has to simulate four parts of the world when you split your party, and that’s where the difficulty is. And then in the game, you can have an army behind you that’s following you, all kinds of zombies if you do a necromancer build, then the other guy is gonna be like, in a fight with everybody in the city. If you add it all up, it’s even tight already on the Series X and PS5.
The internet is full of hilarious videos of people coming up with all sorts of ridiculous solutions to in-game problems. What sort of unexpected things have you seen from the community that have stood out to you so far?
I have a great example. I got a message yesterday from a streamer, and she was super excited about what she had done. There’s a place in the game where you’re dealing with a really hard boss sitting in the Underdark. And there’s a hammer that comes down that you can trigger from a distance with the lever. And so she got herself with the boss who was following her under the hammer, she dropped the healing potion on the floor, she shot a fireball at the lever, which triggered the hammer, which killed her, killed the boss, but because the healing potion broke the fluid came out, and the healing potion gave her the HP that she needed to survive the hammer. So she walked out of it alive. It’s fantastic.
How, as a game developer, do you plan for things like that? Is it just a lot of playtesting? Is it the extended Alpha period? Or do you see what they come up with, and figure it out from there?
To be honest, it’s a mix of all of those. You build your systems, and you try to make them work like clockwork, but you can’t think of everything because you’re human, and you have a limited brain, and things go wrong. There’s a lot of testing. The game was in Early Access for three years, which helped a lot. A lot of the core systems were solidly tested. Then we had very long playtesting internally that was going on also. But even then, there are things that we don’t see, otherwise, we wouldn’t be patching.
And the game is very long also. So any test session that you start takes a very long time. If there’s something that broke because of something you did, and you only get it at the end of the of the game, it can take a long time for us to figure out it’s actually even a thing. That’s because you do a lot of choice-and-consequence. But you have to take it with it, otherwise, you can’t make these types of games. It’s the same thing for every single big RPG out there and will always be like that.
What are your feelings on mods?
I love it, but it makes my life complicated. When we launch a patch, the very first thing that we hear is “Oh, it broke! Your patch broke the game.” Well, maybe you want to update your mod or remove that mod. That’s always instantly the first conversation with mods. But other than that, I love it. We’re gonna do better mod support over time. We’re working on that, that will take some time.
We are adding in extra epilogue stuff. It’s actually underway. Actors are being recalled, writing is happening on that.
This most recent patch had an expanded epilogue for Karlach. Is that a sort of update that we can expect to see in the future?
Yeah, we said that we’re going to. We have a tool that allows us to render permutations of the videos that you look at. These videos of the ending were like 18 minutes long. We said, “that’s getting really long guys, this is gonna be going on like the end of The Lord of the Rings.” So we said, maybe we should trim it. And that was a mistake, clearly, because a lot of players were upset by that. They actually wanted that. So Peter Jackson was right.
So we learned from that. We brought back Sam (Béart), who’s the actress for Karlach right away. She went into the studio, I think, within the first week. We said okay, let’s give an updated ending. An optional ending, because they are all the other ones for Karlach. So we are adding in extra epilogue stuff. It’s actually underway. Actors are being recalled, writing is happening on that. But it’s not (cut) content that existed; it’s something that we are going to create new.
You’ve said that you aren’t currently working on any DLC, expansions, things like that. How set in stone is that?
We, as a team, peaked toward this release. So we’re gonna take a break. That actually is it. We’re tired. It’s been a long, long, long journey. It’s been six years of us only thinking about his game. So we need to refresh ourselves. And then we’ll see.