Siege of Dragonspear: expansion for BGEE

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Jhessail

Panzervixen
Grandmaster Knight
Beamdog, the company started by Trent Ostner and a bunch of other former Bioware employees, has previously made the Enhanced Editions of Baldur's Gate, Baldur's Gate 2 and Icewind Dale. My opinion is that the EEs suck donkey balls and are a waste of money - I won't go into the reasons here. But plenty of people disagree with me and the three EEs have sold pretty well - enough that Beamdog got the approval om Wizards of the Coast to make a sort of interquel, "to bridge the gap between BG and BG". Originally meant as a small bit of DLC, the project ballooned out and is now advertised as a 30-hour long expansion, the Siege of Dragonspear. Leaving aside how silly it is to make a big expansion like that between two games that do not really need anything like that, it is a curious and interesting experiment to blow life into a 18-year old franchise. So how did Beamdog do?

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It dropped quickly off Steam's best-selling chart being buried down to page 5 or so right now. Obviously an expansion never sells as well as the original game but estimates place the number of sold copies as under 100,000 which must be a fairly massive disappointment to Beamdog. So what went wrong?

Major issue is that the game is unpolished or I guess "a buggy mess" is a fair term to use. Multiplayer is apparently not functioning at all, the 2.0 update that the expansion forces on all BG:EE users broke all mods though there is a hotfix workaround that kinda makes some of the work wonky, some character dialogues get stuck in endless loops, save game corruption is now a reality and, most hilariously, the game difficulty can randomly be reset to the easiest - Story Mode which is basically a god/cheat mode - on reload. This is amusing because Beamdog advertised their new Legacy of Bhaal special difficulty thing before launch, compared to the Heart of Winter mode in Icewind Dale and which can only be enabled at the start of a game - this bug thus means that anyone playing LoB-mode will have start over if they encounter it. Now it's pretty understandable that RPGs are bugged when they launch as they have so much content, however Beamdog doesn't get a pass here because they really should know better - they claim to have overhauled the engine completely for the EE's (claim of which I am very skeptical about) and these sort of game-breaking issues really shouldn't happen when you're working on your fourth project on the same engine. How did save game corruption issue escape QA?

But bugs can be forgiven if they are quickly patched, the developer apologizes (or at least acts that way for a while) and the game is otherwise great. So far there hasn't been even a hotfix, though the game has been out for almost a week. The lore-purists are already throwing a riot when fastest players revealed that the big bad guy of SoD is our old friend Belhifet whom you might remember from Icewind Dale. Why is that a problem? Because in 2nd edition D&D, Belhifet is a pretty well known lvl 18 demon, which makes him a pretty big thing and a major adversary. Which is why Black Isle chose him for the opponent for the player's party in IWD, a 6-character party around level 14, who are only fighting his weaker physical manifestation on the Prime Material Plane. What did Beamdog writers do? Use the same demon - probably because they were only familiar with him, having just "enhanced" IWD - but now a significantly weaker party - around level 10-11 - goes to the Nine Hells to fight him! Just to put some context for non-D&D people, the Nine Hells are not a newbie-friendly vacation spot. In BG2 the player's party makes a couple of quick forays into the Nine Hells which are fairly challenging before quickly retreating. Now SoD sends a weaker party there to challenge a major demon in his lair. This reeks of two things: laziness and power fantasy. The writers are so in love with their story that they throw decades of established lore to the trash instead of modifying their story to fit the lore - or at least sending an email to WotC and asking for the name of some other, somewhat weaker demon.

For some reason, Beamdog also dropped bunch of the BG companions which is a bizarre design choice. One of the strengths of the original Baldur's Gate is that you have whopping 25 companions with whom to create your party. Beamdog then added 3 or 4 more in their EE. Granted, the companions do not have much dialogue with the player character, which is why Bioware was able to put so many in the original (they never reached even close that amount in their later games but their companions did become more interactive - whether that's a good thing or bad is a topic for another day). Now some of them just take off, barely saying bye to the player, while a new companion named Corwin is introduced. If you do not have time to write stuff for existing companions, why are you then introducing entirely new ones? This leads me to the things that have cause a small riot over SoD in the last few days: social activism or SJW, as it's often called. For this to make sense, we have to go back in time and meet Amber Scott. She is a writer for Beamdog, though I'm unsure if she is the lead writer or not - I think she is since she has been the only writer interviewed. In August 2015, she posted on Beamdog forums:
As I've said before (and I won't say much more on this subject other than to get my perspective out there):

I'm the writer and creator. I get to make decisions about who I write about and why.

I don't like writing about straight/white/cis people all the time. It's not reflective of the real world, it sets up s/w/c as the "normal" baseline from which "other" characters must be added, and it's boring.

I consciously add as much diversity as I can to my writing and I don't care if people think that's "forced" or fake. I find choosing to write from a straight default just as artificial. I'm happy to be an SJW and I hope to write many Social Justice Games in the future that reach as many different types of people as possible. Everyone should get a chance to see themselves reflected in pop culture.

/end
Uh-oh. That is certainly going to get a certain segment of the Internet up in arms, sharpening their pitchforks. But Amber probably learned her lesson and realizes that selling an expansion to a really old RPG is already a niche market and not the best venue for promoting progressive ideals. Or maybe she didn't get the memo. While
http://kotaku.com/the-struggle-to-bring-back-baldur-s-gate-after-17-years-1768303595
While the designer, Philip Daigle explains that:
“Everything that we added that was new, the question that was always, always on our mind was, ‘Does this feel like Baldur’s Gate?’” said Daigle. “Does this enhance the Baldur’s Gate experience or are we pushing it in a different and perhaps wrong direction? Half of our team is made up of ex-modders or guys who have been playing Baldur’s Gate for 15 years. They know deep, deep in their bones what does and does not feel like Baldur’s Gate. We leaned on them very heavily in terms of running designs past them. Does this feel like Baldur’s Gate to you? Does this feel like you’re playing a Baldur’s Gate adventure?”
which is of course marketing bull**** but the appropriate bull**** to say to the public on the day of release, Amber Scott wasn't quite as PR-savvy:
“If there was something for the original Baldur’s Gate that just doesn’t mesh for modern day gamers like the sexism, [we tried to address that],” said writer Amber Scott. “In the original there’s a lot of jokes at women’s expense. Or if not a lot, there’s a couple, like Safana was just a sex object in BG 1, and Jaheira was the nagging wife and that was played for comedy. We were able to say, ‘No, that’s not really the kind of story we want to make.’ In Siege of Dragonspear, Safana gets her own little storyline, she got a way better personality upgrade. If people don’t like that, then too bad.”
Now, as some of you might know, I'm a proud feminist and usually very allergic to sexism. So imagine my surprise when Amber describes Baldur's Gate, the game I've played through a dozen times, as sexist. Which I apparently never realized. I don't know whether Kotaku paraphrased her argument and in the interview she goes on saying that she wrote a little romance dialogue between Jaheira and Khalid, to show what kind of relationship they "really" had - which is really troublesome too. First of all, Baldur's Gate isn't sexist. That's a bull**** claim to make. As said, BG has 25 companions of which 10 are women. They are all unique characters too, in the sense that they aren't carbon copies of each other. Obviously they are mostly just cliches and archetypes, just like all the companions are:
Alora - the naive halfling wanting adventure
Branwen - the duty-bound passionate priestess
Dynaheir - the prim & proper sorceress
Faldorn - the extremist, almost psychotic druid
Imoen - the spunky tomboy rogue
Jaheira - the willful matron-figure
Safana - the femme fatale
Shar-Teel - the Red Sonja
Skie - the lovesick rebellious teenager
Viconia - the pragmatic manipulator
So excuse but singling out Jaheira and Safana and then using them to bash Baldur's Gate is both obnoxious and malicious, not to mention misleading. Even if someone personally finds Safana offensive, there are nine other female companions - two of whom are stat-wise better rogues (Imoen & Alora) - so it's not like she is forced upon the player. So we have a writer who is passionate about going on an SJW-crusade, who thinks that the original game was sexist and "problematic to modern gamers", who is now responsible for writing majority of SoD. Can you say ****storm?

http://nichegamer.com/2016/04/04/tale-dragons-memes-dragonspears-writing-horrid/
After five hours with the game, I encountered numerous situations where a combination of very poor writing and social justice pandering began to weigh the game down. Technical and gameplay missteps were one thing, but the sheer amount of modern 2016 Tumblr-level politics turned what was once a grand medieval swords & sorcery epic into the equivalent of a emotional teenage girl’s self-insert fanfic. So, after documenting these odd inclusions to the game, I went to check to see if /v/ was upset about it as well...

It wasn’t until later when, completely out of the blue, Corwin hit on my female mage main character and propositioned her. There was no discussion with her, no reputation building, no romantic conversations, no interest shown at all…but Corwin immediately hit on my main character all the same. Besides being extremely odd given the fact that my character and Corwin barely exchanged more than 4 sentences up until this point (all of which rather curt dialog that hinted she was a figid shrew), it seemed incredibly hackneyed and forced. Why would she, completely out of the blue and so soon, ask my female mage to sleep with her? Thankfully, it let me end the burgeoning relationship right then and there, but it was the first sign that something was terribly wrong with this game’s writing...

Secondly, and perhaps even worse than Corwin’s broken mess of a character, is the modification done to Safana. While I understand Beamdog’s writers were angry at Safana for being a man-teasing “slut”, I never saw her character in such a way. To me, she was a manipulative woman who learned she could coerce men to do her bidding by complimenting them. Any woman who has had a successful first date after the age of 13 is well aware of the truth in that strategy. Though considering your average bitter female 30-something social keyboard warrior dines with cats and spends every night dampening their iPhone with tears shed while swiping through Tinder profiles, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to you that they despise having to admit that fact.

So what did they do? They completely altered Safana’s personality. No longer is she anything close to resembling the sultry seductress that defined her character both in vanilla Baldur’s Gate and various user based mods over the last 18 years. Now, she is a sarcastic, sometimes ungrateful, always spiteful thief who begrudgingly follows your orders. The difference, especially if you’ve ever ran an evil party with Safana, are extraordinarily profound.
Now it's pretty obvious that this author has an ax to grind, he raises two valid points which I quoted above. Changing the personality of an existing character is always risky business and should be done only with superb tact, so as to avoid it becoming hamfisted.

http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2016-04-05-new-baldurs-gate-expansion-siege-of-dragonspear-off-to-a-rough-start
There are two particular examples of political agenda that people are discussing, although they may not be the only examples in the game. One example is the character Minsc making a quip about ethics, saying, "Really, it's about ethics in heroic adventuring." The other example is a shopkeeper who is transgender and readily reveals that to you.
http://techraptor.net/content/baldurs-gate-siege-dragonspear-launches-controversy
Yes, we also have a character who cracks a joke about ethics.  The original Baldur’s Gate had a whole sequence about the Bob Newhart show.  If this generates controversy it makes a sad statement about the world we live in.

Minsc is possibly the most loved character in the BG series, the gentle giant with brain trauma that makes him act in a pretty crazy manner. The lovable idiot, you could say. To have him make a quip about GamerGate - "Really, it's about ethics in video game journalism" - is a pretty low blow from Amber and one that Trent should have prevented. It's even worse that Trent does not seem to understand the difference of having 3 throwaway NPCs hidden in one corner of a single map out of 30+ that make a joke about a TV-show that had been off the air for years before Baldur's Gate launched and a major companion that almost all players will use - thus ensuring that they hear his selection/command lines and that zinger multiple times - that references a fairly major video game controversy that is barely over.

Then there is the trans-woman shopkeeper/priest:
Baldurs-Gate-Dragonspear-Mizhena.jpg


First, the graphic changes are abysmal and make one of the prettiest RPGs look absolute horse****. They can be toggled off in the options and I would recommend anyone who is actually playing this to do so.
Secondly, when the player meets this shopkeeper, there is a line to ask about her "strange" name. Which is bit awkward as Faerun is full of strange names and the player doesn't get to ask anyone else this same question. So Dynaheir and Ajantis are common names but Mizhena isn't? Probably because it's Czech and means Man-Woman which is really super-duper clever of Amber. Anyway, she then explains as shown in the screenshot. Kinda awkward. There's already a transwoman on Beamdog forums explaining why she isn't thrilled about being "included" in this manner:
https://forums.beamdog.com/discussion/50420/my-thoughts-on-mizhena-as-a-transgender-person-myself
The inclusion of Mizhena is utterly pointless. Having a transgender character just to have one brings nothing to the story, all it does is take you back to the 'real world', which to me ruins the immersion I'm supposed to feel playing a fantasy game. I would rather there be no trans character than a pointless one.
You should also read the first reply to it, both make very good points.

If you're a D&D nerd and/or invested in Faerun, you would immediately know that
A) being trans is not a big deal and actually not a thing thanks to magic
B) writers have a long history of dealing with sensitive topics in a subtle manner, usually using stand-ins

For A), the most famous example is of course the Goddess Mystra changing archmage Elminster into a woman and making "her" a priestess of Mystra, so that Elminster can have a better understanding of both Divine magic but also of how the other half lives. Then there is the notorious Girdle of Masculinity/Femininity from Baldur's Gate itself, which also shows up in Baldur's Gate 2, where Edwin can be permanently transformed into Edwina and the ending even reacts to it. There's Alter Self and Polymorph Other spells, freely available from wizards. Faerun is the epitome of high fantasy where magic is an everyday phenomenon and magical trinkets are commonplace. Every village has its hedge wizard or at least a low-level priest. And, as the posters mentioned, this could have been turned into a little quest instead of a hamfisted exposition. As for B), it's a well known practice. The fantastic racism between elves and dwarves and men and orcs and so on is a way of handling real-world racism without all the baggage that brings. Human-to-human racism is extremely rare if not completely non-existent in Faerun. Considering that Amber Scott has previously written for Paizo, the way she presents Mizhena is really strange - she should know better.

In conclusion: a poor writer makes a poor hash of things when trying to be as inclusive as possible thanks to an overzealous attitude, a situation that is then made worse by her attitude in the Kotaku article and her boss doesn't realize that this might be a problem when selling an expansion to an already niche market especially if you already skimped on the QA budget. Marketing 101 - don't insult your core audience.

To be fair, apparently some combat encounters are very good and the improvements to the scripting part of the engine are impressive as it is now possible to have far more actors visible and active before, leading to some fairly large scale battles. Will that be enough after the worst bugs are patched and the SJW-furor dies down?
 

Harkon Haakonson

I am woman, hear me roar!
Marquis
M&BWB
...Ok? Sort of a random, awkward long-winded post. Did you really need to make this angry rant out of nowhere?
 

Duh

Duke
M&BWB
It's always nice to read a good rant.

her boss doesn't realize that this might be a problem
I'm pretty sure they are all convinced that the issue is with people being "intolerant" rather than their lack of finesse. At least the writer seems to view herself as the prodigy of a culture war.

Though to be fair, there are people who will hate on things like that regardless of the situation. Winters game netted an anti-SJW review, because the female protagonist had the option to flirt with a female (1 line in the entire game and she is rejected).
 

Mr.Milker

Sergeant Knight at Arms
WBNWVC
but Mizhena isn't? Probably because it's Czech and means Man-Woman which is really super-duper clever of Amber.

:lol: :lol: :lol:

I didn't even realize this. In proper Czech it would be "Mužena", but holy **** if that's not how she came up with. Hilarious.

I've played the first 15 minutes, fighting through a bit of a dungeon and it's not bad as far as initial impressions go. Very fighty, lots of monsters, quite difficult if you choose one of the higher dif. settings. Definitely reminded me why I was glad to forget about save scumming and rest spamming in the Infinity games, while playing newer stuff like PoE.
 

Temuzu

Marquis
WBM&BNWWF&SVC
Looking forward to the Mount & Blade remake where Borcha and Marnid are a gay couple, Jeremus is a racist old white man and Deshavi is turned into an overpowered Mary Sue.

Oh and good post, nice tl;dr of the fiasco unfolding.
 

Úlfheðinn

Section Moderator
WB
Bad developers confirmed, thanks for saving me the $.  :razz:

Harkon Haakonson said:
...Ok? Sort of a random, awkward long-winded post. Did you really need to make this angry rant out of nowhere?

Seemed like a useful post to me.
 

Cordor

Baron
WBNW
I have actually been following up about Dragonspear and yeah, they ( or only she ) really did push up a really stupid agenda on a game that is already beloved by many, I don't why people let this happen, but it did and its pretty stupid
 

Jhessail

Panzervixen
Grandmaster Knight
I never bought the Enhanced Editions because

A) they stole lot of modder content - granted, they did end up hiring a sizable number of modders
B) they lied about HD graphics update, which in reality is just the widescreen-mod combined with a ****ty blur filter
C) their added companions were fanfiction level

So all the warning signs were up in the air already but there was always the chance that things would have improved. The SJW-activity alone would have ensured a small scandal, as would have the numerous bugs and issues - but when combined, especially with the attitude of Beamdog senior staff to blame their customers - "no real BG fan would hate on us" - instead of admitting shortcomings, we have the perfect ****storm brewing. So bring your popcorn.

I wonder if Wizards of the Coast has some IP-licencing manager worrying about his/her job security, since now the latest three D&D video games have bombed.



Harkon Haakonson said:
...Ok? Sort of a random, awkward long-winded post. Did you really need to make this angry rant out of nowhere?
:neutral:

I'm not angry. I have nothing invested in this, my old copies of BG, TotSC, SoA and ToB are perfectly serviceable and I have digital versions at GoG just in case. This is just entertaining to follow and a heads-up to others since there was no dedicated thread for this.
 

Scully

Baron
WBWF&SNW
So we get to know how we ended up in Irenicus' love lair? Or did they actually cover that in BG2?
 

Úlfheðinn

Section Moderator
WB
Jhessail said:
I never bought the Enhanced Editions because

A) they stole lot of modder content - granted, they did end up hiring a sizable number of modders
B) they lied about HD graphics update, which in reality is just the widescreen-mod combined with a ****ty blur filter
C) their added companions were fanfiction level

So all the warning signs were up in the air already but there was always the chance that things would have improved. The SJW-activity alone would have ensured a small scandal, as would have the numerous bugs and issues - but when combined, especially with the attitude of Beamdog senior staff to blame their customers - "no real BG fan would hate on us" - instead of admitting shortcomings, we have the perfect ****storm brewing. So bring your popcorn.

I wonder if Wizards of the Coast has some IP-licencing manager worrying about his/her job security, since now the latest three D&D video games have bombed.

All reasons why I passed on the game.

I think the biggest thing is just that the question "Does Beamdog add anything absolutely neccesary to the BG series?" To which the answer is clearly, "No."

It's just another example of a lazy developer milking a well-regarded series/lore setting/IP for money.




Jhessail said:
Harkon Haakonson said:
...Ok? Sort of a random, awkward long-winded post. Did you really need to make this angry rant out of nowhere?
:neutral:

I'm not angry. I have nothing invested in this, my old copies of BG, TotSC, SoA and ToB are perfectly serviceable and I have digital versions at GoG just in case. This is just entertaining to follow and a heads-up to others since there was no dedicated thread for this.


Harkonettes gonna Harkonette.
 

Wellenbrecher

Trümmerfrau
Archduke
WBM&BVC
Jhessail said:
Then there is the trans-woman shopkeeper/priest:
Baldurs-Gate-Dragonspear-Mizhena.jpg


First, the graphic changes are abysmal and make one of the prettiest RPGs look absolute horse****. They can be toggled off in the options and I would recommend anyone who is actually playing this to do so.
And here I thought those visuals were made up by a ****poster on /v/ :lol:
But then again, a **** product gets a **** expansion. More news at 11.
 
Jhessail said:
I never bought the Enhanced Editions because

A) they stole lot of modder content - granted, they did end up hiring a sizable number of modders
B) they lied about HD graphics update, which in reality is just the widescreen-mod combined with a ****ty blur filter
C) their added companions were fanfiction level

Me neither. I'm actually surprised that given the sheer amount of free user-created content available for BG, IWD and their sequels, anybody would feel the need to buy an "enhanced" edition.
 

Sir Prince

Formerly Reformed Spammer
Count
M&BWBWF&SNW
It seems like poor writing is the largest culprit, I am by no means a fan of "SJWs" but parts of that influence seem to be between definitely a bad decision and just badly written but well intended but minor (like that trans NPC). That and the fact that any mention of GG brings out the worst in the internet, IDK why anyone like Total Biscuit is still trying to stick and push the original, non-toxic goals of the movement without changing banners.

I pretty much wrote off Beamdog and this expansion, seems that was largely justified. They have good intentions, but their writing is terrible. Really sad situation to see all around.

Whoever OK'd that art needs to be fired though. Or banned from art.
 

Kharille

Knight at Arms
Bought BG on ebay back in 2002, one of my earliest ebay purchases.  Bought BG2 in 2004.  Didn't finish the first game until 2012 and then I realized I didn't like my ranger so I restarted.  Maybe I'll start BG2 in 2022.  All I know is the game install works last time I checked.

Really hate the level cap.  Patched it out.  If I explore every last map section I want all the experience points.  Just a pain when you reach the level cap.  Bearing in mind the returns in the end don't amount to much, for the fighter at least I don't see what the problem is.

Good to know.  Maybe I'll watch someones letsplay for this one.
 
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