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."
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.