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Trent Oster, CEO of Beamdog, today opened up regarding the controversies surrounding his development studio’s latest title, Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear

In an interview conducted by Develop Online, Oster discussed the controversy surrounding the transgendered character Mizhena, the GamerGate line by fan favorite Minsc, and the issue of refugees found in Dragonspear. According to Oster, the introduction of Mizhena was one that was designed to be a short conversation, due to the games word budget. Oster noted that for NPCs, conversations are  “…what we consider three dialogue nodes deep. We put an arbitrary limit on our writers for our support characters of just three nodes deep, just to control wordcount. Siege of Dragonspear is over 500,000 words of dialogue, so we had to put limits on writers so they didn’t create more.”

Mizhena is not the only NPC to have this issue, as most minor NPC’s found in Dragonspear have very short conversations at three nodes deep or less, with some exceptions. Player characters and important NPCs, of course, have more dialogue and branching conversations. Regarding Mizhena, Oster maintains that the writers at Beamdog did a good job in keeping her interaction short but meaningful, but notes that there is obvious room for improvement, citing the three line conversation limit as a major cut-off for a long, meaningful interaction. 

In a previous statement, Oster noted that Mizhena will be given more dialogue, in order to satisfy the complaints about the character’s poor writing.  

Oster also admitted that he and his team were surprised regarding the reaction to Mizhena. “To us, having a transgender character wasn’t that big a deal,” he told Develop Online. “In a world where there’s half-orcs – so a human and an orc had an offspring together – and dragons can transform into humans and gods can walk the earth as male or female, whatever choice they make – it just didn’t seem like a big detail to us.”

The scene involving Mizhena, via twitter.

The scene involving Mizhena, via twitter.

His words echo the sentiments of many online, who have taken umbrage against the calls for the game being “agenda focused.” Others, including Forgotten Realms creator Ed Greenwood, have also come out in support of the decision to include a transgendered character, stating that it is not lore-breaking, a common argument made by detractors of the character.

In regards to the in-game writing and other subject matters, Oster admits that the team made a mistake for including an in-joke against GamerGate, which is spoken by the character Minsc on rare occasions. “You have [to] click a lot of times before he fires it off,” said Oster. “After the reaction, I sat and clicked on him until the line appeared, and I agreed that, y’know what, this doesn’t actually make sense.” 

Another section of the interview talks about a lesser controversy, regarding the sensitive subject of refugees. According to Oster, Dragonspear was in development for two years, before the Syrian refugee crisis. Oster defends the use of refugees as part of the story they wanted to tell, however, noting that adding real-life consequences into the game was important for the sake of the games plot. 

The interview also discusses the writing in the Dragonspear game, with Oster specifically defending the writing staff. One of the game’s writers, Amber Scott, has come under fire for her outspoken comments regarding what many have blamed to be poor writing and the insertion of a political agenda. Oster, however, notes that including a specific political agenda was never the aim for the development team.

Oster himself admitted that he took those accusations personally however, and had to walk away for a few days before composing his second official response on April 6th. He noted that “If someone hijacked your game and inserted their own agenda, something not approved by the company, you’ve got to figure out what to do from an internal management perspective. But if it’s representative of the company’s views, and you agree with it, you need to stand up and support that person.”

Oster also pointed out that Beamdog, whose staff includes several ex-BioWare employees who worked on the original Baldur’s Gate, take their own experiences and translate them into their writing. “Ultimately, the writers write the dialogue. In order to make interesting dialogue, you take your personal experiences, your beliefs, what interests you and what drives you, and that’s going to feed into whatever character you create. Individual writers are going to bring different things to your game. That’s why you have editors, who edit content down to make it fit within the overall game.” 

The final message Oster gives is for developers to be sensitive about such subject matter if you choose to include characters such as Mizhena in a video game, urging developers to do it in-depth and respectfully so such a controversy doesn’t occur.

So now with a more in-depth explanation over the controversy surrounding Dragonspear, what do you think about all of this? Did Beamdog learn their lesson? Is this really a massive controversy or a mountain out of a molehill? Leave your comments below. 

 


Robert Grosso

Staff Writer

A game playing, college teaching, erudite-minded scholar who happens to write some articles every so often. Have worked as a journalist, critic, educator and blogger for over five years now, with articles published (as user editorials) on Game Revolution and Giant Bomb as well as a contributor for the websites Angry Bananas and Blistered Thumbs. Now making TechRaptor my home.



  • AcidFog

    “Ultimately, the writers write the dialogue. In order to make interesting
    dialogue, you take your personal experiences, your beliefs, what
    interests you and what drives you, and that’s going to feed into
    whatever character you create”

    there you got proof that SocJus attempts to get rid of everyone they disagree with is harmful for the industry.

  • A Hyena

    One particular counter argument I’ve seen to the “In a world where there’s half-orcs – so a human and an orc had an offspring together – and dragons can transform into humans and gods can walk the earth as male or female, whatever choice they make – it just didn’t seem like a big detail to us.” argument, is that same reason is also why it seems out of place in a world where you could just get a complete sex/appearance change out of the blue as long as you had someone/something to do it, there probably wouldn’t be much of a trans identity in the first place in such a world.

    Heck, I imagine the same could be said if there becomes a point in the future that sex change becomes as easy as ordering take-out.

  • AcidFog

    i mean, they could have gone with “i was born a boy but i felt like that was wrong for me so i went on an adventure to find the Belt Of Genderswapping” and go from there, perhaps have this character travel around from tavern to tavern telling people about his adventures how he got it.

    that would be an interesting character.
    “hi yeah i’m trans so i created a fantasy name in a realm where your stepmom’s name is “Jaheira”, your best friends “Imoen” and you’re accompanied by a guy named “Minsc” so you totally know that “mizhena” is a rare name”
    i can’t suspend my disbelief that far

  • Einherjar

    Again, ive not seen a single comment about the inclusion of trans characters or it being “lore breaking”.
    All ive seen from people online is the complaint about the blatant tokenism of the games writer in a certain interview and the general complaint about the rather low quality writing compared to its predecessors.

    Why do people still believe criticism stemmed from the mere inclusion of the character ? Where did that come from ?

    The most fitting comparison ive read in a critical post about said character was, that they literally turned them into a “rampant vegan” meme.
    “Hey, i just met you, and this is crazy, but i am trans, and this is my lifes story”

    For someone who actually believes that in the world of D&D, transgender people are nothing out of the ordinary (and i share that opinion) they certainly put a lot of effort into this character giving the player a history lesson in how important it is…

    That and the moronic statements made in Scott interview where the corner stones of peoples problems with this character, not the character itself and even less with their gender.

  • Einherjar

    Or have their stand have a different nameplate and hook the dialogue there. “Why does your cart say X ? Arent you the owner ? – Well, you see” There you have your hook.

    Blatantly telling strangers your lifes story out of the blue would be out of place anywhere, trans or not.

  • Zanard Bell

    The fact that the GamerGate line even got out of the drawing boards is already a mystery to me, unless they wanted to antagonize the members of that movement, just as planned.

    Something just reeks at Beamdog and until I know what it is, I’m not touching their games with a ten-foot pole.

  • Casey

    It’s the same reductionist bullshit that lead GHERMS MEEDEUH to conclude that devil may cry fans didn’t like DMC because it wasn’t Dante or because he didn’t have white hair.

    It’s because it’s much easier to say that and make clickbait than it is to parse out the myriad ways that DMC fails on a systemic level when compared to the older games.

  • Casey

    Oster noted that for NPCs, conversations are “…what we consider three
    dialogue nodes deep. We put an arbitrary limit on our writers for our
    support characters of just three nodes deep, just to control wordcount. Siege of Dragonspear is over 500,000 words of dialogue, so we had to put limits on writers so they didn’t create more.”
    “We put an arbitrary limit on our writers for our support characters”
    “arbitrary limit”

    I wonder if this guy knows what the term ARBITRARY means, and why you shouldn’t throw shit at a dartboard when making a game.

  • Einherjar

    Well, i was there on the frontline over at Capcomunity and was insulted personally by this tameem guy in person. Good times, especially when i heard that my complaints were about hair.

    And guess what ? DmC also hat a cheap pot shot like the “Ethics” line in it (The mop that fell on his head looked like the old hair, with the line “not in a million years”). And no matter what your criticism was, be it the 30fps limit, the grotesque handling of established characters (sounds familiar ?) or the generally sub par writing (i sense a pattern here), people were called entitled, were called names and have been brushed off by the media as “always complaining manbabies” (I think ive heard this before)

    This debacle is one in a million. This stuff has been going on for years now. The only difference ? Now, there is a movement that has the guts to say out loud what they think of stuff like this, a movement that has learned not to get discouraged by being constantly insulted and treated like ADHD children.

  • Einherjar

    I have no clue what makes a man think: “Well, lets make a dialogue driven and text heavy RPG…but lets keep the text as thin as possible ! Wouldnt want to go over our arbitrary limit here”…

    How about cutting scenarios, spritework etc in favor of the one thing that makes up 90% of your game ? All scrapped ideas can always be reused in a sequel should your game sell well…which is doesnt, since you never though so far…
    Does this still fall under the rules of Karma ?

  • Casey

    It certainly falls under the term “baffling.”

  • Robert Grosso

    Budget mostly.

    Word budgets can be restricting like that. The original Baldur’s Gate had random NPC conversations that lasted one or two lines and served little purpose but to add flavor. You also had a bunch of in-joke writing that was thrown in for good measure in the original game.

    Thing is, word budgets do take a lot of time and need to be managed, what Oster is basically saying is we need to focus our writing on the major conversations, and we need to limit NPC interaction to free up room for those major conversations. So party members, for example, have a lot more lines, some of them voiced, which takes precedence in the end.

  • ParasiteX

    It’s understandable that they put word limits on minor NPCs. Most RPGs do so…
    But that doesn’t make it ok to write a character that blurts out their sexuality within that small limit. As it just makes it look like their entire existence and personality revolves around their sexuality.

    It is poor writing, and the character ends up being very shallow and one dimensional..
    And just comes of as looking like SJW pandering.

    Minor NPCs with limited dialog, should as Trent put it, only be used to add flavor to the overall story.. Not push some fan-fic writers wet socjus agenda.

    When you add a LGBT character into a game. Then you can’t put arbitrary limits on their dialog like that. If the goal of the character is to at some point to reveal their sexual orientation.
    Most normal people do not blurt that shit out within the first couple of sentences. People who do that, are usually among the most annoying people there is..
    So a character like that do indeed need quite a bit more fleshing out. Hence it doesn’t really make sense to introduce characters like that in minor roles.

    There are on the otherhand some subtle ways to introduce minor gay characters. I remembered the police captain in The Flash is gay. But they didn’t introduce him in a way where he literally scream out I’M GAAAAY!… Instead they more subtlety put in that he is marred and has a husband.
    And say what you will about the overall writing quality in the DC series, as the suck pretty bad. But they atleast didn’t introduced gay characters in a way that seemed forced.

    Game of Thrones is another great series that managed to put in gay characters in a way that it feels like a natural part of the setting.

  • Robert Grosso

    But it’s also something not unusual in Baldur’s Gate though, or RPG’s for that matter.

    If Mizhena is the catalyst for what is more or less an RPG trope of NPC’s giving exposition backstory before offering services or a quest, then that problem should have been addressed, or at the very least, had more examples than just Mizhena by the majority. blanket statements on the game having poor writing is good and all, but I have not seen many credible examples given of that outside of Safana and her characterization.

    Dragonspear has a lot of these types of interactions, which is something it shares with the original Baldur’s Gate in a lot of respects, especially in older RPGs in general. The writing is very hit or miss overall mostly because of these interactions, which is a weakness in the expansion, albeit it is not one that totally sinks the game.

  • John

    There’s nothing wrong with having a transgender character in a video game – it’s the ham-handed way that they went about it in this particular video game. The character just randomly unloads their personal business on you in an out of context way. If you are going to have a three-line limit for interactions, then maybe this wasn’t the right game for this. If I remember right, there was no outcry about the trans character in Dragon Age Inquisiton – and it sold many more copies than this game. The reason is because Crem doesn’t instantly tell you his whole backstory about being born a female but feeling correct living as a male the first instant you meet him. He tells you about it once you’ve gotten to know him, and ask about his background. That is correct way to introduce that a game character is trans.

  • Bitterbear

    I would have preferred to find out about Mizhena’s transexuality in the old-fashioned way of RPGs: breaking into the character’s living quarters and finding it out by accident while looking for loot.

  • Robert Grosso

    Actually, a lot of people argued Krem is a token character as well, mostly due to him being in the game in the first place, how certain conversations are handled, and some, of course, arguing that he sort of tells you his whole backstory at one point.

    I agree with you essentially, but to BioWare’s credit, they likely had a larger word budget for a character like Krem, who also serves as a war table provider and a face for the chargers. It is hard to compare the two due to sheer resources both companies likely had to work with, despite handling similar subject matter in different ways.

    It’s not good writing with Mizhena, but I think what Oster is defending here is the fact it was the best they did with those constraints. The fact that they are going to add more now may change it for the better.

  • ParasiteX

    LOL.. that reminds me of when you went into some random houses in South Park The Stick of Truth.

  • Nicki Ashley

    Nice cop out.

  • Inquiring

    “But it’s also something not unusual in Baldur’s Gate though, or RPG’s for that matter.”
    What other NPCs in all of BG1 and 2 that have such a small amount of dialogue, blurt out life information like they are from Tumblr, that would also be totally unremarkable in the world, like that?

    Because I can’t think of a single CRPG that rates mediocre or higher, that does that. Even Inquisition, one of the most poorly written games ever, that rapes its own established lore, handled its token trans character better.

    Some JRPGs have NPCs that blurt out random snippets of life story for no reason. But JRPGs have NPCs that are limited to single bite of dialogue and next to the endlessly repeating “I’m Trans!” NPC will be one that barks like a dog for no reason, and another who just repeats what their favorite sandwich is.

  • Bloodnok

    Translation. You’d impose a word limit to keep translation costs under control.

  • Robert Grosso

    For one, almost every conversation with Elminster comes to mind, a few lines here and there for the most part. You have interactions with joke characters like Lord Foreshadow and the random get off my lawn guy, Prism, the miner Marvin in Nashkell, the monks of Candlekeep, and so forth. you have one-two line conversations with named NPCs constantly and noblemen, most of which doesn’t have a lot of characterization to them, but rather just cliched characters turned to 11 and giving off snarky snippets of dialogue and typical responses, with really clunky writing used to express themselves, or a bit of backstory from where they are or what their parents do.

    Thats a lot of mediocre to poor writing, and that was the original Baldur’s Gate in hindsight, compared to 2, Planescape Torment, even games like Pillars of Eternity. Dragonspear has characters who fall into that trap heavily as well, the quartermaster in the warcamp, Belegarm, is another example of stilted dialogue that is uneven in tone and delivery, one minute he says to your face he doesn’t trust you, the next he says to let him know if you need anything, all within the same three-line structure more or less seen with Mizhena. No one really complained about him though.

    Not to mention, David Warner reprising Irenicus is also pretty bad in this game, since his role makes no sense and feels inserted due to obligation. A major spoiler regarding his interaction with you, the main villain in the game, and another character felt incredibly forced, along with a late-game cameo that I won’t spoil here that felt like a massive fan-service joke to me, but mostly because I know the history of RPG’s and isometric titles quite well. Plus, the complaints about Safana are a bit over the top, but in the ballpark, her new characterization is among the weakest for returning companions.

    And yet, you have fantastic characters like M’Khin who is so damn good I would call her the standout character in the expansion, as well as most of Calor Argent’s bits, save a few scenes. We also have characters like Minsc, Edwin and EE character Rasaad who are major standouts as well with personal quests and bits of storyline, and I really liked Corwin because she was a contradiction; there were parts where she was annoyingly so stubborn and prejudice, and parts where she was soft and introspective. It made for some good dynamics, despite being hampered by some really clunky dialogue here and there.

    Baldur’s Gate 2 had much tighter writing, so I can’t really think of a solid example to honestly give you, but I am sure a lot of side content and writing in that game, upon retrospective takes, are also a bit weak here and there too.

    So yeah, that is a bit from what I have played, bit from what I remember, and more to come when the review goes live in a few days to expand upon this, but there you go, it’s nothing really surprising to me in the end.

  • davem

    The pre release interviews continued to slam gamers for being various sorts of bad and talked of how wonderful they were for being inclusive.
    The first we knew was spin.
    On release we find the second is also, with a pathetic and forced 3 lines that created a weak, patronising, token character that they thought should be worth some brownie points.

    So they were slammed, rightfully so, it is a rich story driven game, don’t write crap and then demand to be praised for it. If you want praise do it properly.

    So in short, don’t make crap games and don’t spread lies about your customer base.

  • Galbador

    What wonders me is, in how does this help the plot? I mean, if it is a special npc, sure, you can build in like he/she feels confortable (not sure if this is the right word… me and my english) with you.

    But as many before me have said, the way this npc tells this, feels pretty forced.

    The same goes for this one sentense you displayed here with the child screaming thar her mother does not need the help of the hero and that she can defend herself. This in the wrong light and in our time with SJW problems and propagandas all the time, gives this sentense a sick aftertaste. It really depends on how you present those lines.

    This is why I dislike this addon. Not because the transgender, but the way they presented this.

  • Einherjar

    You could also say, that a big part of why people perceive it as bad writing is a combination of nostalgia, good memories and the fact that people to this day quote the Baldurs Gate games and its siblings when it comes to “novel style writing”.

    Especially Planescape: Torment set the bar incredibly high in terms of expectations.

    Its always a very tricky and finichy endevour to expand on such a classic and beloved franchise, especially as a 3rd party.

    Another big factor is, that people are generally rather sensetive about this specific topic at hand. In times where “everything is sexist, everything is racist, everything is homophobic and you have to point it all out” people are almost conditioned to sniff this BS out like truffle pigs.

    If it wasnt for the constant reminder about how racist and sexist games are, the constant censorship and online bickering, mundane lines like this would have just been shrugged off.

    It would still be a bad dialogue, but in no way and outrage like this. When the writer calls the original “too sexist” and calls it out for its tokenism and stereotyping and does the exact same thing, people get angry. Not because they generally want to, but because they have been drilled to do so over the last two years.

  • Einherjar

    Sure, especially since translations and localisation are amongs the most costly factors. I think it was XSeed who did a fantastic interview about their struggles to do it. I get that.

    But in my opinion, thats a conceptual misfire.
    I mean, weve recently seen what heppens, when you deliberatly crop a medium to fit into some arbitrary limits with the movie Batman V Superman.

    Warner pretty much sacrificed plot depth and pacing to cram as much sequel hooks into it as possible. And weve seen how well that goes.

    Like i said, this budged would have been better spend by cutting other parts instead, since text and dialogue is this kind of games lifeblood.

    Also, it should have been better supervised. If you have such an arbitrary limit, dont use it on characters that would require more dialogue to get the point across.

    The argument of wanting to create interesting characters and still applying this limit onto them just falls flat on its face. It simply doesnt work. You either write interesting characters that require depth and finesse or you have limited dialogue characters for fluff text.

  • Einherjar

    Which is a fair point and it should be that way. These are the core characters of the story afterall.
    But like i said above, dont try to sell “max. 3 nodes deep” characters as “interesting”.

    Cut a fluff text character and double the dialogue of another. Its all down to management really. And this management was severely lacking.

  • Robert Grosso

    I think, at least in how i’m interpreting Oster personally, is that they thought within that 3 nodes they had they did a good job, hence the “interesting” line. It could also just be spin of course.

    We also don’t know if other fluff characters were cut to make room or not. Perhaps they were? We can only really guess in the end I feel like. versus truly knowing on that one.