Baldur’s Gate III and Dark Alliance were only the beginning. As D&D surges in popularity, WotC is ready to take on video games once more.
Last week, Wizards of the Coast revealed a new D&D video game, Dark Alliance, at the imaginatively named Video Game Awards. Apparently this is only the beginning–WotC has their sights aimed high, according to recent remarks by president Chris Cocks in an interview with GamesIndustry.biz, where Cocks revealed that “seven or eight games” are currently lined up over the next few years. From mid-sized projects like Dark Alliance to ‘grand strategy combat’ it seems like D&D has its sights set on the digital frontier.
D&D and video games have a long and intertwined relationship. From the early days of computer programming, with games like Ultima and Wizardry and Might & Magic laying the groundwork to influence generations of games to come, including JRPGs like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, who use mechanics adapted from either D&D itself or games inspired D&D–to the actual gold box D&D games developed by TSR and SSI like Pool of Radiance and Champions of Krynn or later ones like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights. Even the humble Multi-User Dungeon genre owes a lot to D&D, which by extension means games like NeverQuest and World of Warcraft can trace their lineage back to the humble d20.
Now admittedly, D&D as a video game has been a mixed bag in the past. An overabundance of games hit TSR during a time of financial hardship and that was among the reasons for the company’s eventual failure. But with D&D performing so strongly right now, perhaps the time has come to try and once more capture the magic of RPGs in a video game. But Cocks is aware that it’s impossible to truly replicate a tabletop experience in a video game, and that this means the options are limited when considering what to do:
“We want each game to have a point of view, and to really keep on just a couple of things and do it really, really well. What you don’t want to do is have every game in the franchise try to do the same thing, and try to do everything all at once.”
Comparing licensing the game to running a sesssion of D&D, Cocks mentioned a few of the difficulties–as well as a few of the opportunities they have:
“We really don’t limit people. The D&D team’s job is to say ‘yes’ when people want to play something… The best dungeon masters tend to want to figure out how to say ‘yes’, and have the players do what they want to do… We want to open it up, open up the narrative possibilities, the character development, open up the level of problem solving and combat opportunities and thrills that players can be able to experience.
All of this means casting a wide net when designing these games. According to Cocks, plans are in the works to explore a variety of genres, “whether it’s grand strategy and combat at army level scale, to really intimate character portrayal.”
The important thing is to try and keep the core D&D experience in mind, which Cocks is keenly aware of.
“It’s not just a game that you experience yourself, it’s a game that you form friendships with, around the table — or today around the screen. I think people had a longing for that experience, and because we made such a nice, open-ended experience with [5e], you couple that with the rise of sharing platforms that are inherently cooperative and inherently social, and you have this nice synergy where the two fed upon each other.
“As we develop our video games, we’re trying to leverage that as well. We will have single player games; we think they’re important. There will be single player modes in all of our games, but we always think that our co-operative perspective, that forming a party with your friends and doing great things together — the party is bigger than individual components — will always be an important part of our secret sauce.”
Of course, a lot has happened since the heyday of Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance. Dungeon Crawlers like the Diablo series have come and dominated their own landscapes, then you have your Roguelike games currently enjoying a resurgence, while massive open world games like Skyrim and Dragon Age help redefine what players might expect.
Video games are full of inspirations and iterations of D&D and fantasy already, so it’ll be interesting to see what the folks at Wizards aim for with their proposed games. There’s always new ground to be tread, and not everything has to reinvent the wheel, but we’ll all be watching closely to see what WotC does.