Update: We contacted Beamdog directly to respond to the controversy, and Beamdog CEO Trent Oster graciously responded to us.
Specifically, we asked Mr. Oster about the comments made by Scott, his own comments on the Beamdog forums, and his thoughts on the whole controversy. His comments are quoted in their entirety below.
I find the controversy ridiculous. Yes, we have a transgendered character. I know a number of transgendered people and they are genuine, wonderful humans. 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.As for my post on the forums, I merely asked people who were enjoying the game to share their positive feedback. I know our fans can become engrossed in their enjoyment and I really don't want potential fans to miss out on the series because of protest reviews by small minded individuals.As for Amber's interview, I also believe in strong female characters and I feel she did an excellent job bringing dimension and interest to Safana with her writing in Siege of Dragonspear. Her "Too bad" comment, I chalk up to a long day of interviews, having personally done such interviews.Regards,-Trent
Original Story: Beamdog's newest Baldur's Gate title, Siege of Dragonspear, launched late last week, but it has not been without controversy.
The game, set between the events of the BioWare classics Baldur's Gate 1 and 2, has been met with positive reception for the most part, with the biggest complaints coming from bug issues and in-game problems, something Beamdog has struggled with before. In particular is a nasty import problem between Baldur's Gate 1 and Dragonspear, as well as in-game mods not working once Dragonspear has been downloaded. Other issues include problems with the game's new UI and a change in minor gameplay elements, like how tooltips appear. However, complaints about bugs and other in-game issues have been overshadowed this weekend by complaints about the game's writing and self-injected gender politics.
The issues originally stemmed from the discovery of a transgendered character in the game, a NPC shopkeeper named Mizhena. In her short interaction she explains her past life and her struggle with her gender identity, before getting down to business with the players.
This sparked some outrage over developer Beamdog, along with a quote circulating from an interview conducted by Kotaku on March 31st. The quote in question comes from one of the game's writers, Amber Scott, who talks about striking a balance between the original game's tone and a modern take in regards to the portrayal of female characters. “In the original there’s a lot of jokes at women’s expense," noted Scott. "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.”
Many have since begun to complain about the game's writing on several forums and social media, which have been overrun with criticisms over the Mizhena character (despite the fact that she is killable in the final product), the Kotaku piece, and a random line of dialogue said by the party member Minsc, which directly references the catchphrase of Gamergate as an in-joke Easter egg as one of many lines that can trigger when you select him.
One of the first sites to weigh in on this controversy was NicheGamer, who added several of their own opinions of what they thought was wrong with Dragonspear, citing an 8chan board as the source of these claims. Forums on both Steam and Beamdog have also been bombarded with topics on these issues, while others have flocked to Twitter to chastise or defend Beamdog.
However, it is clear Beamdog has taken some care in crafting this new Baldur's Gate game. In the same interview, Scott goes on to note that almost all of the writing done is to enhance the characters and their relationships, while Beamdog Lead Designer Philip Daigle discusses the importance of having options in the game for players to make a choice.
“I got to write a little tender, romance-y side quest for Khalid and Jaheira where you could learn a little bit about how their marriage works and how they really feel about each other.”
There’s also four new companions, one of whom is gay, one of whom is bisexual. There’s even a monster companion, a throwback to a Baldur’s Gate II easter egg. But it’s not just about representation for representation’s sake. Beamdog wanted to give players options.
“We’ve got four new companions, and then there’s the returned Enhanced Edition companions and then a bunch of companions from Baldur’s Gate 1,” said Daigle. “There’s a very wide and large roster in this game. You can build whatever kind of party you want. One of the problems in BG 1 and 2 was that it was kind of hard to have an evil party that worked. We put a lot of work into making it so can have an evil party that won’t screw you over, that will work in the game. You can be that evil character you want to be.”
Included in that interview is a key line by Beamdog CEO Trent Oster, who noted that most of the game was built from the ground up and subsequently created a new style guide as a reference to make sure what they put in captured the spirit of Baldur's Gate.
Angry players, however, have taken to both Steam and GOG and have begun review bombing the title, including downvoting positive reviews. Despite this, the majority of the Steam reviews at this time have been overall generally positive, citing the game as a good continuation of the Baldur's Gate series. Other complaints by both sides of the controversy have been mired in personal attack arguments, although Beamdog's moderators on Steam and their own forums have been letting players more or less voice their opinions within reason. One moderator on Steam noted "Threads that are being locked are being locked because they devolve into antagonistic remarks about the LGBTQ community or about specific people on this forum. Feel free to discuss the quality of the writing, or the characters themselves, as long as you do so without antagonizing minority groups."
The review bombing has picked up momentum, however, to the point where CEO Trent Oster addressed the issue in the Beamdog forums, asking fans to consider posting positive reviews to "balance out the loud minority which is currently painting a dark picture for new players." Whether or not that will happen and what it means for the title is tough to say. With the Internet arguments surrounding this title, however, it is unlikely that the downvoting or complaints will cease as players line up on different sides to argue about this newly contentious issue in relation to Beamdog.
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