by Joseph Leray
According to Trent Oster — the co-founder of the Beamdog digital distribution platform and it’s game development arm, Overhaul Games — “Baldur’s Gate III” is still a possibility, despite the legal Gordian Knot he currently finds himself untangling. His company recently released “Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition,” but it was pulled from stores last week and all development on Beamdog’s “Baldur’s Gate II” remake was halted.
“The prognosis [for resuming work on ’Baldur’s Gate’] is mixed,” he told Rock, Paper Shogun. “Best case, we can sort this out soon. Worst case, this could be in legal hell for a while. I like making games, but this contractual dispute bullsh*t keeps me up at night.”
“’Baldur’s Gate III’ … we are still interested in the concept, but currently I’d say we’re very demoralized,” he continued. Still, the team hasn’t given up on their dream of developing “Baldur’s Gate III,” though it seems like an uphill battle.
That’s sad to hear, but here’s the thing — I didn’t even know “Baldur’s Gate III” was A Thing until yesterday, and it wasn’t immediately obvious to me how a contract dispute with an unnamed “publishing partner” would keep Beamdog from working on it.
So, what’s going on with the “Baldur’s Gate” series?
To quote The Dude, “This is a very complicated case, Maude. You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you’s. And, uh, lotta strands to keep in my head, man.” This is going to get a little twisty, so bear with me.
Back in 1998, Interplay published the original, BioWare-developed “Baldur’s Gate” as part of its Black Isles Studios label. “Baldur’s Gate” is based on the Forgotten Realms campaign setting of Dungeons & Dragons, which was licensed from Wizards of the Coast. By 2003, Interplay had canceled “Baldur’s Gate III: the Black Hound” and closed Black Isles. Interplay’s agreement with Wizards expired, and all those licenses reverted back to their original owners.
In the meantime, Wizards of the Coast had been bought by Hasbro in 1999. Hasbro had its own videogame division, called Hasbro Interactive, and had bought Atari outright a year earlier. In 2000, Hasbro sold Hasbro Interactive, including what was left of Atari, to Infrogrames, a French publisher. Infogrames eventually rebranded itself under the Atari name.
Here’s the kicker: in 2005, Hasbro bought its old digital licensing rights back from Atari. As part of the proceedings, Atari penned a 10-year exclusive deal to make videogames based on Dungeons & Dragons.
But not so fast: In 2009, Atari sold part of its European branch to Namco Bandai, which violated the 2005 licensing deal with Hasbro. Hasbro successfully sued Atari, and in 2011, the digital licensing rights to Dungeons & Dragons went back to Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast. As part of that deal, Atari was allowed to keep making games under the license.
Back to the present day: Oster co-founded BioWare before moving own to create Beamdog and Overhaul Games. His company approached Atari and Wizards of the Coast about a series of “Baldur’s Gate” remakes. The first one, “Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition” was published by Atari and released on iOS, Steam, and Beamdog in December 2012.
Overhaul was also tapped to re-make the sequel, “Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition,” and Overhaul co-founder Cameron Tofer told GameSpy last year that a brand new, from-scratch “Baldur’s Gate III” was the “long term goal.”
“’Baldur’s Gate III’ has been our long term goal. We have a lot of things to put in place before such a project can be launched,” he said. “So currently there is no such project but that’s the one we want to do. Our thoughts have been that Enhanced Edition for ’BG I’ and ’II’ just make sense before there’s any ’Baldur’s Gate III.'”
If this story weren’t Byzantine enough, here’s where things go pear-shaped by Overhaul and “Baldur’s Gate III.” “Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition” was pulled from the App Store and the Beamdog platform last week, and an official statement from Overhaul explains that the company has “taken this step at our publishing partner’s request as we attempt to resolve a number of contractual issues.”
As it stands, Overhaul can’t sell any copies of “Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition,” development on the sequel has ground to a halt, and “Baldur’s Gate III” is looking more and more like a pipe dream. While Overhaul hasn’t named which of its “publishing partners” is gumming up the works, it’s worth noting that Atari filed for bankruptcy earlier this year and is currently offering up its games to potential buyers at auction. Surprise!
So, why is this rat’s nest so important? Because “Baldur’s Gate III” would be a huge deal if Wizards of the Coast, Atari, and Overhaul could ever sort it out.
Those old Interplay franchises were seminal, foundational achievements and hugely impacted Western role-playing games: series like “Neverwinter Nights” and “Dragon Age” couldn’t exist without “Baldur’s Gate,” and the developers that cut their teeth on it went on to work at studios like BioWare, Troika Games, Obsidian Entertainment, and InXile.
If “Baldur’s Gate III” were to get the greenlight from Hasbro, Atari, or whichever hellish corporate entity is calling the shots, Overhaul plan to fund it on Kickstarter. Given the smashing success of Obisidian’s “Project Eternity” and InXile’s “Torment: Tides of Numenera” campaigns, there’s seems to be a healthy appetite for role-playing games of yore.
That said, here’s hoping a resolution — or at least more information — is imminent. A return to form for “Baldur’s Gate” would be most appreciated.
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