Thursday, December 28, 2017

Six Siders & Space Hamsters

James Ohlen and Cameron Tofer talk about the pen-and-paper game that saw the birth of Minsc and Boo.

This article was originally published in Issue 2 of the Familiar.

The original Baldur's Gate companions have risen to iconic status among classic CRPG fans over the last nineteen years. The inspiration for many of these beloved companions, including Minsc, Edwin, and Xan, came from a pen-and-paper campaign that began around 1993. James Ohlen of BioWare was the DM, and the roster of players includes current giants in the RPG industry.

“I was looking to start a Forgotten Realms campaign and expand the number of players in my group,” Ohlen recalls, “so I advertised at the public library and local gaming stores. The response I got was much bigger than I expected.”

Cameron Tofer joined the group a few months after the game began. His character? A fierce ranger named Minsc.

“I was playing a lot of Civilization at the time and I played the Russians, and so Minsc was named after the city,” Cameron Tofer, Beamdog co-founder, explains. “He was based off some horrible rolls - his Intelligence, I just fumbled that. And because I joined late I was a couple of levels behind everyone.”

It was this level disparity that inspired one of the most adored animal companions of all time. “[Minsc] was knocked out in the first round of pretty much every fight,” Tofer says. “When I finally levelled up enough to get a companion, that's how I got Boo.”

According to Tofer, Boo was the only character he could play because Minsc was always knocked out.

Ross Gardner played Jon Icarus, the character who later inspired Baldur's Gate II villain Joneleth Irenicus. “I changed [the name] because of its connection with Greek mythology,” says Ohlen. Jeff Veitenheimer played a ranger named Sarevok, who not only became the villain of Baldur's Gate, but was also Minsc's big brother.

“[Sarevok] had a vorpal sword and was really badass. Everything was 'Sarevok this' and 'Sarevok that',” says Tofer.

Sean Carriere played Edwin, a wizard, and Dean Anderson played Bodi, Jon Icarus's sister. Ben Smedstad played Xan. “Ben was literally Xan,” Tofer recalls.

“A lot of lifelong friends came from the people I met in the Forgotten Realms campaign,” Ohlen says. “Some of those friends have gone on to found their own video game companies or take on senior roles at some of the biggest video game companies in the world.”

Though the characters would later go on to fill the ranks of Baldur's Gate companions, the game Ohlen ran didn't inspire the storyline for the game. Ohlen had ample experience crafting and DMing adventures. “I ran [a Forgotten Realms campaign] in my teenage years and at one point I was Dungeon Mastering three separate groups at the public library in Grande Prairie,” he says. “The campaign spanned many years, thousands of hours of Dungeon Mastering, and more than 30 different players.” The campaign that saw the rise of Minsc lasted for many years, until around 1999.

In that time, there were some constants in the adventures the party faced. “Every campaign we started, we'd be naked in a jail cell,” says Tofer. “[Ohlen would say], 'Ok, you wake up. Naked. In a jail cell.' 'OH NO, NOT AGAIN! EVERY TIME!'”

“Cam is over exaggerating a little,” adds Ohlen. “I did use the prisoner trope quite a bit, but not all the time. The reason I used it so often probably stems from the fact that the D&D published adventure Scourge of the Slave Lords is one of my favorites of all time.”

Shades of the Baldur's Gate II opening scene, with the player character locked in Irenicus's dungeon? “[The trope] did probably influence Baldur's Gate II,” Ohlen says.

“Oh yeah,” adds Tofer. “It's a classic.”

Minsc developed over the course of the game, though his history in the pen-and-paper campaign is not the same as the character's in the video game. “Eventually when we started leveling up, Minsc was pretty badass,” Tofer recalls. And on the character sheet, Minsc is listed as having a sister. “Yeah, but she came in late, she didn't really play a role,” says Tofer. “It was just Minsc lying unconscious and Boo running around doing everything.”

Minsc and Boo had “some kind of mental link” says Tofer, which made it easier to play the hamster. Perhaps Boo is the one influencing Minsc in Baldur's Gate.

Luckily for us, Tofer saved many of the character sheets from the original campaign.

Behold Minsc's original character sheet, over 20 years old and full of detail about the original butt-kicking ranger.

Stay tuned, we’re excited to share more materials from the Familiar in upcoming weeks! Share your impressions on Facebook, Twitter, and in our forums and tell us about your experience with pen-and-paper adventures.

Friday, December 22, 2017

December 22 Livestream Recap

“We have just defeated a massive colossus of bones” ~ Phillip Daigle
Beamdog CEO Trent Oster and Studio Director Phillip Daigle spoke about the future of  Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition, the 2.5 patch for the Infinity Engine games, and they also went in search of adventure on the Arelith EE Beta Persistent World for NWN:EE. Players from around the world were able to join in during the stream to help seek out and destroy an undead Jarl that was menacing an icebound port town. Later they switched to Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition and explored Candlekeep in an open multiplayer test session with a lucky forum member, Doubledimas.

Missed the stream? It's on YouTube and Twitch!

Here's a quick summary of the highlights from today’s livestream:

  • If you still haven’t heard about it, Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition Head Start is going strong. By pre-ordering the game from Beamdog and participating in the Head Start, players shape the future of NWN:EE.
  • There’re 2 Trello boards for Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition: the Roadmap board and the Input board. Grab the Head Start and on the Beamdog forums tell us what feats and features you want to see in NWN:EE, then vote on the Input boards for suggestions you prefer. We want to take the feedback from the players and let that feedback drive the development of the game.
  • The whole concept of Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition Head Start is to get it out early and let people tell us what features we should work on.
  • If you look at the Input board, people vote there for the most wanted stuff. For example, people are really interested in new content for NWN:EE and getting upgraded character models.
  • The new build for Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition Head Start was released yesterday (v74.8153). Don’t miss the latest changes and check the patch notes here.
“(When looking at the player controlling a beholder) He has a name, Trent. It’s Balthazar.” ~ Phillip Daigle

  • Neverwinter Nights is famous for its Persistent Worlds. During this livestream we checked out a Persistent World that had been running for 13 years or so - the Arelith server. The people behind that server have already created the whole new custom module working for Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition, and it shows in full detail what the NWN community can do.
  • The Arelith server is one of the many. Head over to to find tons of servers already available for Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition. Don’t forget that there’s also a galaxy of user-created modules available to play in NWN:EE today!
  • Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition will be released fully when it’s done. The release of BG:EE was rough, but the game has taken so many steps forward during more than 5 years after its release. We have concluded that when we launch NWN:EE, it should be a brilliant game.
  • And don’t forget - there’s no need to wait! By getting the game on Beamdog you can start enjoying the Enhanced Edition right away, and then later get a key for Steam if you so desire.  Your saves and progress will work on either platform!
“How many units sold of NWN:EE will it take to get Phillip to stream Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition while wearing a chainmail bikini?” - “One million of copies” ~ Trent Oster

  • Beamdog title comes from “Beam” - “Transfer” and “Dog” - “Companion. So back in the day we wanted to be a digital platform to provide you with games and support for them. Phillip suggested “Lazercat” multiple times, but was shouted down at every turn.
  • Regarding considering third party contracted developers (like the spots DLA and Ossian used to fill), - at the moment we have nothing official to announce. We liked what they did with the original game and agree - we would like to see more!
  • We have an advisor from the NWNX group, who works with us on Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition and has access to the code which will allow NWNX to become more powerful.
  • While we want to do a new content and graphics for NWN:EE, we absolutely don’t want to break the old content. So we plan to do the new, improved graphics, for the new content. The goal is to make slow but steady progress, so that when we launch the game it will give a good experience to all the players. There’s still a lot of work left before we launch. Going forward, we plan to give you good value for spending money on Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition.
  • The discussion about unlocking new spellbook creation is big and we are still trying to find out how to handle it. In order to make sure we do everything right, we need to hear from you. So, go to the forums, reach some consensus, and we’ll start from there, moving the card from the Input board to the Roadmap board.
  • Improvements on the Toolset is another big discussion. The Toolset is hard to work on. We have done some improvements on it, but at the moment the Toolset is not in active development. Additionally, we want to knock out high-value targets in the game itself before turning our attention to the Toolset. If enough people vote on it on the Input board, it’ll give us a boost!
  • The chances of getting lowly voted features into NWN:EE depend on how easy they are to implement. For the most part, the voting will influence decisions. The Input board is a community endorsed thing. If the vast majority of our players think something is important, we’ll focus on it.
  • With a potential modifying the 3.0 ruleset in NWN:EE, we have the same main rule: don’t change, - instead, unhardcode. We’ll open up servers and modding tools to let make changes, we don’t want to affect the backwards compatibility of NWN:EE.
  • We like the idea of adding in the most popular tilesets created over the years for Neverwinter Nights (for example, a Medieval tileset) as base content for NWN:EE rather than having to add HAKs. But first we have to set up a contract to distribute these tilesets. It’ll come down to work with everyone who is responsible for them.
  • The feature of adding a 4th class option for character multiclassing comes down to the UI. This feature (a 4th class option) is not at the top of the Input board currently, so if you want to ensure it happens, vote! The work on UI in NWN:EE is going to be a big job.
“The rule of thumb: always kill the caster first” ~ Trent Oster

  • A UI refactor and official controller support for Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition are those things we’re definitely interested in. The team on original Neverwinter Nights never had time to do it, and for us it’s a question of when we can make it happen. The UI refactor will most likely happen earlier than the controller support.
  • Phillip Daigle is very enthusiastic about adding the Steam Workshop for NWN:EE. In the same time, we don’t want to wreck the existing NWN Vault community and we’ll make sure people on Beamdog and GOG will have easy access to the same modules.
  • Regarding something in the code that has caused us the biggest trouble in creating Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition, - it’s the whole rendering pipeline. We burned it to the ground and started anew. Actually, we found problems in much of the code. Any time you work with a 13-years code base, you think that while this was pretty good for the graphics back in the day, it is not entirely the case today.
  • Working on the Infinity Engine, we learned a lot. At his point, we’re probably at 70% of rewriting the whole code base for the Infinity Engine games.
  • We usually talk with Wizards of the Coast at least once a week. We love to hear from them. Having a constant ongoing conversation is very positive for us. We commonly discuss everything with them – we pitch ideas to them, they pitch ideas to us. It’s a good relationship, providing a lot of feedback to what we are doing. WotC have been always so easy to work with. The people there are great.

  • The 2.5 update for Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition, Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition and Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition is available on Google Play, Steam, and Beamdog, focused primarily on Multiplayer. Test the game and share your feedback in our Survey. After the holidays we’ll be pushing the 2.5 patch live on all the platforms.
  • If we do a new D&D game, we’ll do it with the 5th Edition. There’re a lot of good things you remember from the 2nd and the 3rd Editions which are back with the 5th Edition. There’re a million and one stories we’re interested to tell in the Forgotten Realms.
  • Today is the last day before we leave the office in 2017. We’ll be back in a couple of weeks. But don’t worry - there are people on our side who are constantly waiting for the bug reports you create from the 2.5 update open beta, and the earlier they hear about bugs, the better chances of fixing them will be. Report all the issues you find on Redmine.
  • We wish all our players and fans Happy Holidays! Onwards to 2018!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

NWN:EE Head Start Patch Notes v74.8153

The last Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition Head Start update of the year is here!

As the Trello boards ramp up with community suggested features and fixes, the development team has been hard at work getting some much needed tech debt out of the way.

In this update you will see the following fixes:

  • OpenMP3: a fix for errors where playback would stutter on some files.
  • (SoU campaign) Fixed Dorna disappearing when dying, instead of going prone asking for help
  • Bink and miles libraries have been removed completely from the game download
  • A whole host of master server improvements & security updates
  • [Regression] Escape in the chat bar now cancels text input again instead of emitting an em dash.
  • [Regression] OpenAL: Another memleak fix.
Tune in tomorrow on Twitch at 10:00AM PST/11:00AM MST for the Beamdog Livestream! We're going to be hitting up a Persistent World server - you'll be able to roleplay-scream at Phillip Daigle live on the internet!

Friday, December 15, 2017

December 15 Livestream Recap

Full of ideas about NWN:EE? - Share them on the Beamdog forums, vote on the Input board, and watch the progress of the game development on the Roadmap board!
During today’s Twitch stream, Beamdog Studio CEO Trent Oster and Studio Director Phil Daigle shared recent news about Infinity Engine Enhanced Editions and plans for Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition. They introduced the new trello system for NWN:EE, and played A Harper’s Tale - Prelude, a fan-made NWN module created by Dave Mason more than 10 years ago and runs perfectly in NWN:EE.

Missed the stream? It's on YouTube and Twitch!

Here's a quick summary of the highlights from today’s livestream:

  • The 2.5 update open beta for Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition, Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition and Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition is available on Google Play, Steam, and Beamdog. This patch is all about fixing Multiplayer, so we need a ton of Multiplayer feedback. Share your feedback in our Survey. If you can play the open beta on Android, connect to the PC version, spend time playing Multiplayer, and reflect on it in the survey - we’ll be very, very grateful.
  • The open beta and survey will run over the holidays, through to January 8th, with the possibility of an extension. Try new features, like the Shaman class introduced into Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition!
  • After the 2.5 patch we plan to move Siege of Dragonspear to tablets. 2.5 needs to be as solid as can be so that SoD is an excellent experience for those trying it for the first time.
  • We have a big sale going on currently for all our Infinity Engine titles on GOG, so check it out!
  • If you still haven’t joined Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition Head Start, do it now. By pre-ordering the game from Beamdog and participating in the Head Start, you can shape the future of NWN:EE.
  • We now have a live Trello board for Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition which we call the Roadmap board. The Roadmap board is a public read-only board where interested parties can inform themselves on what is going on in the NWN:EE land, development wise. You can find larger features and updates that we are considering, are in development, or are nearing completion.
  • There’s also another live Trello board - the Input board. This board is something that will be filled with cards based on community feedback. Neverwinter Nights fans can vote to prioritise features and fixes. Once the development team is ready to investigate a feature request or are working to implement it, they will pick cards from the Input board and move them to the Roadmap board.
  • To nominate a feature for the Input board, please, visit the Beamdog forums and share your ideas there. Key members of the community will then create a corresponding card on the Input board so fan can vote or subscribe to the feature.
  • If you’re interested in helping us make Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition better, go vote in the Input board and share the feedback on the Trello board discussion forum. There also will be separate threads for every card from the “Needs More Discussion List”, so that you could provide more details and feedback about how this or that feature should look like.
  • We aim to be conservative in what we are putting on our Roadmap board, but there are no guarantees of features getting implemented. We sometimes even might stop working on a feature, move it to the Icebox or remove it from the Roadmap altogether.
  • We have four guiding principles with regards to Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition:
  1. Do not break backwards compatibility;
  2. Do not change - unhardcode and open up for modding/extension, and add new functionality;
  3. Step forward slowly and try to keep it stable;
  4. New content is king.
  • If you have a suggestion for a fan-made module you'd like to see played on the stream, let us know on Twitter, Facebook, or in the forums!
  • We have no plans for the boxed version of Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition as of yet. Right now we’re focused on making NWN:EE the best it can possibly be.
  • Currently Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition doesn’t support EAX. We’re rolling out OpenAL first. We’ll keep looking into bringing EAX to NWN:EE.
  • We updated Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition with the latest version of the C++ builder, and we will be very careful with the builder so that we don’t break stuff.
  • We are open to expand the current Neverwinter Nights scripting, and updating it is not off the table. Go to the forum and create your requests, we need to know the details of what you would like to see.
  • We’ve had a lot of discussions about a potential clash between old Neverwinter Nights assets and new assets we could create. A potential clash is why we are not revising the existing assets. But when we look at the new content we could do, we want it to become something to show the future we anticipate for Neverwinter Nights.
  • The story of the official campaign of Neverwinter Nights has been told. What we would prefer to do is create new story content.

Excited for what’s next? Come and join the next livestream next Friday!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

NWN:EE Head Start Patch Notes v74.8151 and v74.8152

The next Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition Head Start update is here!

These notes are covered in more detail in the README.txt file found in your game install location \lang\en\docs

UPDATE: Build 8152 should now be available through the Beamdog Client.

8152 includes a fix for a memory leak issue introduced in 8151.
8151 includes the following changes:
  • The audio subsystem has been replaced with OpenAL.
  • The music player has been replaced with OpenMP3.
  • The video player has been replaced with WebM.
Create your own in-game panoramic shots!
  • Added the MakePano console command. 
  • Anti-aliasing is back in the settings, but requires a restart to change for technical reasons.
  • Mouse drag/wheel rotation is now smooth no matter the frame rate. Also, it is not speed resolution-dependent anymore.
  • UI elements will no longer hide behind scenery or characters.
  • Weapon Focus Description UI now scales properly.
  • Over a dozen multiplayer crash fixes related to clients sending invalid data, or custom-content data files being corrupt/broken.
Because of the new audio subsystem, we're particularly interested in any cases where players feel like sound and music feels off or different. Please let us know your feedback in the Beamdog forums


Monday, December 11, 2017

2.5 Update Beta Survey

The 2.5 update beta has been live all weekend, and from the sounds of it, the general stability and multiplayer of Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition, Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition, and Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition have been significantly improved!

If this is the first you’ve heard of the 2.5 update beta, head on over here to find out more.

We’ve written up a quick survey to find out what your experiences have been with the 2.5 update beta. Please include any information you have so far about any crashes and other issues you may have encountered during the beta. We'll be accepting survey entries until Jan. 15.

Beamdog forum users, make sure to include the email corresponding to your forum account. We’ll be awarding a forum badge for completing the survey.

Thank you to everyone who has tried the beta so far! We’ll be continuing the 2.5 update beta over the holidays, so there’s lots of time to let us know about your experience!

Friday, December 8, 2017

December 8 Livestream Recap

Multiplayer is a big thing for us. We want to make Neverwinter Nights awesome” ~ Trent Oster
During today’s Twitch stream, Beamdog Studio CEO Trent Oster and Studio Director Phil Daigle shared details about the next update for Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition Head Start and the company’s plans regarding NWN:EE. Afterwards, they spoke about the 2.5 patch update open beta for Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition, Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition and Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition.

Missed the stream? It's on YouTube and Twitch!

Here's a quick summary of the highlights from today’s livestream:

  • The new build for Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition Head Start is mostly about technical debt, issues with the codebase that needed to be removed and cleaned up
  • The biggest thing here is video and audio: we’re moving the audio to OpenAl, and video to WebM, - to play better on more platforms (players will eventually be able to play MP3s instead of BMUs, but not yet)
  • Environmental Effects (EAX) are currently non-functional and will be brought back at a later date
  • We also fixed a number of bugs and server/multiplayer crashes left over from 1.69, smoothed out the middle-mouse drag-rotation, made the Weapon Focus Description UI scaling properly

  • We have implemented a new feature - a console command “Makepano” which generates a set of images that can be stitched into a panoramic. Check out the patch notes of the next build to find out how to use this new feature!

  • A Trello board for Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition is coming next week.
  • As we progress, we will be opening the Trello system to the community so that people will be able to see, subscribe to individual cards and thus vote for features they want to be implemented.
  • Discussion around features will continue to take place on the Beamdog forums and links will be provided on the Trello cards for ease of navigating between the two.
  • Down the road, we’re planning to change the race selection at the character creation from the static options to a dynamic list.
  • We absolutely want to create achievements for Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition on Steam, - not immediately, though, - they will progress slowly with our overall progress on NWN:EE.
  • We plan to allow modders to add more ranged weapons into the game (like throwing spears, harpoons, guns, custom ammunition and the like).
  • New modules and campaigns for NWN:EE - it’s something we’re interested in eventually and something we’ll talk about with Wizards of the Coast
  • The message from the loading screens in original Baldur’s Gate II stating that players were able to import their characters to Neverwinter Nights refer to a feature that couldn’t be executed, and there are no plans for implementing this feature into Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition
  • The original campaign of Neverwinter Nights was what it was. We don’t want to spend time and efforts on revising it, there are better ways and new stories to spend our energy on.
  • Back in time of original Neverwinter Nights, we didn’t link consciously the stories of the Hero of Neverwinter and the main protagonist of the Hordes of the Underdark adventure, they didn’t have to reference each other. But any player, if they want, can imagine that it’s the story of the same character.
  • Neverwinter Nights is not Baldur’s Gate. Baldur’s Gate is a novel about a single character with companions who join her. Neverwinter Nights is a journey for you and your friends. The concept from the very start was, and still is, that you play Neverwinter Nights in multiplayer with your friends. Neverwinter Nights is core multiplayer, bottom to top, you build your content and share it with other players.
  • The last thing we want to do is to make Neverwinter Nights into Baldur’s Gate. Instead, we want to make Neverwinter Nights awesome, and let the community decide what they wish to see in it
  • Neverwinter Nights and Neverwinter Nights 2 are pretty different beasts, we don’t have access to the codebase of NWN 2, and if we theoretically do in NWN:EE anything similar to what is possible in NWN 2 we will have to do it from scratch.
  • The open beta of the 2.5 patch for Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition, Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition and Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition is available on Google Play, Steam, and Beamdog. Find out how to opt-in here.
  • Test the games and let us know what you think on the Beamdog forums.
  • The final release of the the 2.5 patch will happen across all stores and platforms.

Excited for what’s next? Come and join the next livestream next Friday!