Start the Wrap-Up
In a project as content rich as Baldur's Gate II, we didn't really have to worry about cutting content. While we shipped with nearly all the features we originally planned, we did start cutting quests and characters well before the final testing phase. We still ended up with over 200 hundred hours of gameplay.
In retrospect we should have started this process many months earlier. One of the dangers of development is that game developers have a tendency to always add content if they are given time. They don't naturally spend time limiting and polishing content; instead, more time means more stuff. It's wise to use that prioritized feature list to hone the work (of course ours was informal, which made it a little difficult).
We learned to look at our target date and adjust our content development accordingly. In many ways, quality is more important than quantity. Even though Baldur's Gate II was bigger than Baldur's Gate, the actual content was much better quality - we just didn't realize how much more we had made in BG2 until it was too late!
Test Test Test
Because of its immense size, Baldur's Gate II was a tester's nightmare - this was compounded by the fact that we didn't do enough testing as areas were being developed. Baldur's Gate II contains roughly 290 distinct quests - some of these are very small (20 minutes long) while others are quite large (a couple hours in length). Each quest needed to be tested both in single player and multiplayer modes.
The main lobby of the Hall of Wonders.
During testing we adopted a very sound task and bug tracking method introduced to us by Feargus Urquhart, the Director of Black Isle Studios and Chris Parker and Doug Avery, our Black Isle producers (all of whom helped the project in many different ways). We put a number of white-boards in the halls of the testing and design area and listed all of the quests on the boards. We then put an 'X' next to each quest. We broke the designers and QA teams into paired subgroups - each pair (one tester and one designer) had the responsibility of thoroughly checking and fixing each quest. After they were certain the quest was bulletproof, its 'X' was removed. It took about 2 weeks to clear the board (on the first pass).
In addition to the subquest testing, we had another BioWare QA team (consisting not only of a couple people from QA, but also some junior programmers and some designers) work through the game in multiplayer mode. This was in addition to an Interplay Multiplayer QA team working onsite at BioWare and the nearly 30 QA people working down at Interplay. The experience with Baldur's Gate II reinforced the point that role-playing games really need significant QA commitment to be successful.
In the end we found and crushed over 15,000 bugs in Baldur's Gate II. Thanks to the hard work of everyone involved in QA of Baldur's Gate II we were able to ship a giant game with no significant bugs.
The Lesson: test early! You often don't have the time at the end to test adequately.
The Final Crunch
In the final days of working on BG2 there was a strangely serene feeling in the office. We didn't experience the headlong panic that is sometimes prevalent while finishing a game, but we certainly did experience considerable stress as we built 21 final candidates in 3 days. After a few long nights with the whole team playing the game over and over again, we reached a point where we built a good final candidate. Then it was send to the duplicators!
We learned to save some energy during the final crunch - because you need it at the very end.
The final area to mention regarding Baldur's Gate II is the topic of post game support. We've recently come to the realization that we believe in personally providing support to purchasers of our games. Though we had always provided this support, it was only after the conclusion of BG2 that we formalized it as one of the goals of BioWare. A group of Line Producers, managed by their Producers, have recently been given the formal duty of providing very quick (same day or as close to it as possible) technical support to fans - their goal is to make sure people who purchase our games can play them.
We could rely on standard routes of customer support (and we do have this as well of course in the form of CS from our publishers Black Isle/Interplay and LucasArts) but we also want to make the time to directly interface with the purchasers of our games. After all, who better to work through technical issues than the people who made the game? For the first weekend after release we forgot to assign anyone the duty of watching the message boards and support (email@example.com) email so the joint CEO's of BioWare did it themselves. It was very entertaining when people disputed whether it was actually us on the boards or answering their emails - they couldn't believe that we would bother to answer them in person (we did).
However, one of the most important things we've learned in our years in the industry is how important it is to support the fans that buy our games. This means first shipping a bug-free product, and second being completely available to help people that are having trouble with our games - on message boards, via contact emails, and anywhere else we can think of. What's the point of making games if you can't make sure people can play them?
Summary: What worked Well:
Summary: What could have been better:
In conclusion we'd like to thank all of the people that worked on Baldur's Gate II, both on the development team at BioWare and at our publisher Black Isle Studios/Interplay. Like any big game BG2 had its ups and downs, but in the end we are all very proud of the game we made. We hope this retrospective provides you the reader some insight into our development methods and gives you some tangible ideas that you can apply to your own productions. In the end, it's all about the game - if you've put forth an honest effort you will always be satisfied with the result.
Author's note: Special thanks to the entire Baldur's Gate II team for working so damn hard, being so good to work with, and for creating a great sequel. Thanks as well to everyone else at BioWare and our publishers Black Isle/Interplay and LucasArts for their outstanding efforts on all of our other projects currently in development - Neverwinter Nights, Baldur's Gate II expansion pack, Star Wars RPG, and MDK2: Armageddon.