Villian’s Exposition: Black Isle

When I began writing for this issue, it was with every intention of bringing to light the recent shortage of games in the post-apocalyptic genre (Left Behind doesn’t count). It seemed a pertinent enough topic, given the current political climate and how good such games as the Fallout series and Wasteland, among others, were.

Yet as much as I missed taking down super-mutants at 1,000 paces, I realized that what I really missed was PC games that spent as much time on the game as gameplay. Oh, sure, we’ve still got some of the heavy hitters in Blizzard and Bioware, but we’ve also lost the names that ate up hour after hour, leaving us to question how it had gotten so late when we finally looked up.

Black Isle, in particular, comes to mind here, and not just because I’ve been going back through a lot of their games in my spare time. Ask any gamers worth their salt about Baldur’s Gate, and they won’t ask you if you’ve played the latest Dark Alliance—they’ll ask you if you don’t think Tiax rules all yet, if you prefer Edwina to Edwina, or perhaps they’ll just ask you what your hamster has to say on the matter. That’s not to say that Dark Alliance was a bad game—in fact, I rather enjoyed it—but it was not what people had come to expect of the name that our favorite little division of Interplay had spent so long building up.

Indeed, it’s refreshing to see that, as with many of the greatest games of yesteryear, the fan-based modding community is alive and well. Baldur’s Gate Tutu (available via the Pocket Plane Group) is an excellent example of how loved these games were, and are, now more than a decade after their release.

For those of you who didn’t know (I know I didn’t until about 5 months ago), Tutu is a rather massive mod that requires both Baldur’s Gate games. Although many people preferred the storyline and pacing of the first, which felt more like an exploration than a hurried trip toward destiny, many gamers found the significantly slower movement and inferior interface difficult to go back to after playing BG2. Ask players which of the two games they’ve beaten more, and the answer is almost universally the second.

Getting back to the point, however, Tutu gives players the best of both worlds. Through a complex process—the secrets of which I will probably never be privy to—Tutu imports all of the files for the original Baldur’s Gate into an interface straight out of the BG2 build.

For those of you wondering, it is made of win.

Add to that the extras that are still being made for both games, including NPC conversations, new characters and quests, and you’ve got as fitting a eulogy as any gaming company could ever receive. Not since the demise of Cavedog failed to stop fans of the Total Annihilation franchise from making additions have I seen a community as devoted to a game… And Black Isle, it should be noted, didn’t ask for such like Cavedog did.

But then, perhaps it is precisely because the names behind these franchises have faded into memory that the modding communities have been able to develop so well. After all, as much as Blizzard reacts to the market, I have a hard time imagining them relinquishing the stranglehold they have on their franchises—with good reason, considering how much money even their older games like Diablo and Starcraft continue to rake in.

But that’s something to ponder for another day.

Right now, what I as your undisputed overlord and master admonish you to do is to go back to your CD box. You know the one—the one with all those games that haven’t seen the light of day in years, that haven’t even been installed on your last two computers—and give them another chance. Arcanum, Baldur’s Gate, Fallout, Total Annihilation, the original Command & Conquer. Take a look at those games and then imagine what the companies who did so much then could do now…

Then shrug helplessly and relive your youth through videogames, like every other normal person.