RPG veteran developer Jeff Gardiner is “thrilled, not threatened” by Baldur’s Gate 3’s success


Jeff Gardiner, veteran RPG developer, said he’s “thrilled, not threatened” by the success of other RPGs like Baldur’s Gate 3.


Eurogamer spoke to the ex-Bethesda producer at Gamescom and discussed the current state of RPGs: why they’re so popular and how the success of Larian’s latest game was raising expectations of the genre.


“I am thrilled, not threatened by great RPGs,” said Gardiner, when asked about Baldur’s Gate 3. “I love playing them. I would never be upset by this. I think it brings more people into the fanbase of RPGs. As an RPG creator and player I really believe in RPGs – I always have since I started playing them when I was a kid until now… I will celebrate their success, I’ll be their biggest fans forever. I am absolutely thrilled by it.”

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He continued: “This is a daunting task taking on these games. They’re huge. They have a tonne of game mechanics and a lot of lines of VO. But me and the team have done it over and over again. So I see that as, if that’s the new bar, that’s great. We’ll take our shot on that too.”


That team in question is Gardiner’s new studio, Something Wicked Games, which comprises staff from Bethesda, Obsidian and BioWare. Gardiner himself worked on both the Fallout and Elder Scrolls series from 2005 until the creation of Something Wicked Games in 2022. Its debut game will be Wyrdsong, a new RPG with preternatural and occult themes.


But in such a crowded market of RPGs, how do you stand out?


Gardiner believes that’s “sort of a trap”. “I think you should definitely define yourself and make yourself stand out from the crowd,” he said. “You do that stylistically both with the visuals of the game but also the way we’re really focused on narrative in a way that’s unique, not to the point where the game gets too bogged down by it – I think that’s a danger too – but where it accentuates the gameplay and it’s the pauses between excellent gameplay.”


What really makes the studio stand out, though, is the blend of talent from other studios and learning to make narrative focused games more action-packed for a wider appeal.


For Gardiner, RPGs are “the true promise of gaming”, which is part of why the genre has become so popular in recent years. “They are the one [genre of] games where you can immerse yourself in a world and really feel like you’re able to participate in things that you cannot in the real world,” he said. “I love the fact that they are exploding in popularity now. To me it just means more RPGs are going to come out and that’s what I want.”


A dark image with figures trekking across a shrouded place, and there's a giant, snakelike statue - or silhouette - of a figure nearby.
Concept art from Wyrdsong | Image credit: Something Wicked Games


So what can we expect from Wyrdsong? Gardiner explained the studio is in what it calls “the beautiful corner” where the tone for the game’s art and play space has been set. The team intends to have the first playable section shortly.


“It’s definitely going to have the Bethesda vibe,” he said, but as a third-person open world game set in mediaeval Portugal. But its occult elements will differentiate the game from Elder Scrolls, which was more Tolkien-esque fantasy. “We’re definitely targeting the Bethesda and Obsidian audience who love RPGs,” he added.


However, Wyrdsong will be a smaller, more focused experience than what developers from the studio have previously worked on. “Our target is about 75 percent of Skyrim,” said Gardiner. “We want to focus a little bit more on the quality of the gameplay itself, the tactical nature of combat, the interactions you’re having. We feel that because the studio is small and it is our first game, we’re targeting something a little less than what we’ve done before but in a more focused way.


“It’s still a big, open world. We’re still going to pack it with all the things people love, and a lot of extra surprises. We’re really playing with the nature of reality in this game, so as you progress through the story the way you interact with the world will change. Things will change around you based on the decisions you’re making and – we believe – in unique and compelling ways.”


Procedural generation is a topic that’s been debated in the build up to Bethesda’s Starfield, with regards to both randomised and handcrafted planets. It’s something that will “absolutely” be used in Wyrdsong, though Gardiner admitted it will be employed carefully.


“In these big open world games it’s difficult to handcraft everything. I think there has to be some mix, it depends on where your focus is,” he said, explaining the use of randomised encounters in previous Bethesda games.


“The danger to me for Wyrdsong is that you can lean too heavily in on that and then games don’t feel as good. Even the best procedurally generated stuff feels procedural in general, if that makes sense. I think you have to be careful with that. Even landscapes in some Bethesda games, you can place every single tree or you can procedurally generate the forest and then handcraft within that. That’s the kind of stuff I’m looking for, this blending between them.”


More figures in the dark, against a mausoleum-type building, lit by moonlight.
Wyrdsong will have a dark, occult tone. | Image credit: Something Wicked Games


Another major concern with open world games is the amount of bugs. “Gamers have the right to demand that their games work,” said Gardiner, before explaining the two major types of bugs: the fun simulation ones, and the game-breaking bugs.


“There’s always a war at the end of making games: should we keep putting content in to flesh this out? Or should we stop and start fixing bugs? I feel, having shipped seven games, it is a very difficult decision, because you always want to add more, but you don’t want to keep going until you can’t fix it.”


But what’s the solution to help these huge RPGs release in a less buggy state? “There’s a good quality QA pass that’s able to fix the bugs, and there is making sure as you build the game you’re not ignoring huge issues until the very end – it’s called technical debt,” said Gardiner. “You put a system into the game and then you’re like ‘that sort of works, we’ll fix that later’. You can maybe do that here and there, but if you do that to everything in the game that ‘fix it later’ comes with what I would call opportunity cost. At the end of the game, when you’re trying to close it, there’s an opportunity there – if the game is in a decent state – to add the little touches that put that game to another level.


“The onus is both on people making the decisions whether or not to time games – oftentimes the publisher, not always – and the developers also making smart decisions along the way to make sure their setup was successful.”


Wyrdsong is yet to receive any kind of release date, but it seems as if Gardiner and his team are learning from any mistakes of the past to ensure their game is a success others can be thrilled – but hopefully not threatened – by.


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