Liam Esler is an Associate Producer at Beamdog and Production Coordinator at the Australian Independent games publishing label Surprise Attack. He worked on the Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition and was a developer on the Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition. He and the rest of the Beamdog team are currently finishing the Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition, an update and expansion of the classic cRPG Icewind Dale.
This week, he took some time out to answer a few questions about IWD:EE and about his work as writer, scripter and producer.
Jessica Greenlee How did you come to work for Beamdog?
Liam Esler I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to beta-test Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition for Beamdog last year, and soon after the release of BG:EE began to beta-test a very early version of BGII:EE. I had a blast, and a couple of months later joined the BGII:EE team as a scripter. I then became a team lead on Hexxat and Dorn, and then The Black Pits II: Gladiators of Thay, and it’s been go-go-go ever since!
JG What has been your role in the development of BGII:EE and IWD:EE? What does the Assistant Producer do? What portions of BGII:EE did you write?
LE My primary role on BGII:EE was as Scripting Team Lead on two of the new characters, and the new adventure module The Black Pits II: Gladiators of Thay. On IWD:EE I have been an Assistant Producer, and I was primarily involved in getting the project up and running, consulting and then marketing and PR towards release. Alex Tomovic, Pete Camagna, Dee Pennyway, Lorne Ledger, Laszlo Toth, Trevor Borg, Jeff Smyth and the rest of the team deserve all the credit! In terms of what I wrote for BGII:EE, I co-wrote three of the four new romances with the talented Andrew Foley as well as many of the inter-party banters, world reactivity dialogs and other miscellaneous bits and pieces.
JG Beamdog is quite an international group. How many countries are people working in? Or, perhaps more relevant, how many time zones? How do you meet to discuss matters?
LE We have an amazing team across three continents and eight different timezones. Meetings usually mean someone sacrifices a little sleep. For me, the solution was pretty easy: I changed my sleep schedule, and started getting up at 5-6 AM. For some others, it did sometimes mean late nights, but everyone bore through bravely!
JG What was your worst moment preparing for the game? Why?
LE The worst moments were getting close to the deadline and having everybody on separate continents. It’s hard enough to coordinate a team over one timezone, let alone eight!
JG What is the best part about making a game?
LE For me, it’s all of the little “aha!” moments. The first time you really nail a feature. The first time a cutscene works perfectly. Seeing an area come to life. Playing through a quest as it was intended, without any bugs. The best moment during the development of BGII:EE was actually playing through the new content for the first time after voicing had been added. It went from being a collection of content we’d been implementing to real game content, and it was an awesome feeling.
JG You have added a variety of new spells and items to the Icwind Dale: Enhanced Edition. What’s the reasoning behind that decision?
LE While some items comprise of “unfinished business” from the original game design that the Icewind Dale team get to implement, many of the items and spells have been created to account for the variety of new classes we’ve brought to IWD:EE from BGII:EE. For example, there are now a limited amount of katanas available, to account for the Kensai class – it’d be remarkably difficult to play a Kensai without her katana!
JG You have six expanded quests in the game. What kinds of things have been added and updated?
LE These quests were what in the modding community we like to call “unfinished business” – quests that were a part of the original design, but the team didn’t get a chance to implement. Parts of the new quests are based on a mod by CamDawg (Pete Camagna), but the majority is entirely new content based on original designs kindly provided by the former developers and the archives of Obsidian Entertainment.
JG What is there in the future for Beamdog? Are there further games lined up for an update?
LE We would love to do Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale II: Enhanced Edition, but both are much more complicated in terms of bringing the content to our updated engine. It’s definitely something we’re looking into.
JG Beamdog has stressed many times that the Enhanced Editions are modder friendly. What is the philosophy behind this approach?
LE Modding has kept the Baldur’s Gate series alive and thriving for years, and with a multitude of former modders working on BG:EE, BGII:EE and IWD:EE, it only made sense to focus on making things simpler – especially since, during development, we’ve been using many of the same tools modders have been using for years. A lot of things that were previously impossible to alter have been “un-hardcoded” and can now be changed via the editing of various 2DA files. We tried to make our big changes minimal where possible, and along with a bunch of other modders such as CamDawg (Pete Camagna) and Wisp, we’ve done our best to work with the community to ensure as many mods are compatible with our games (particularly BGII:EE) as possible given the limits we’re working with.
Read more about the Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition on Beamdog’s Page