Speaking to me as part of an extensive interview — which will be part of a larger feature on Obsidian that will be up on Kotaku Monday — Obsidian CEO Feargus Urquhart said they were inches away from getting Baldur’s Gate 3 off the ground just a few years ago. It started during a conversation with Atari, the company that holds the rights to Dungeons & Dragons. Obsidian was currently working on expansion packs for Neverwinter Nights 2, which had done well, and the folks at Atari thought they might want to revisit Baldur’s Gate.
“We were talking to Atari, and we started talking, and oh my god this was like the Cherokee Trail of Tears pitch,” he said. “They asked in 2007 if we wanted to do Baldur’s Gate 3, and I’m like ‘Yes, if you guys are serious about it.’ They were like, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘If you’ll put a real budget behind it: it can’t be $US10 million, it needs to be $US20 million, $US25 million. If you really want to do this, then you need to put a real budget behind it. You need to give a budget that BioWare would have to do a Mass Effect or whatever. It has to be a real budget.'”
Atari was hesitant, but they said they’d think about it. A few months later, in early 2008, they came back to Urquhart and gave him the OK, saying they really wanted to get the game done. “They were like ‘OK, we really wanna do this, we feel we can get funding, we feel this we feel that, so let’s start talking about it,'” Urquhart told me.
So in April, Obsidian started putting together a pitch for Baldur’s Gate 3.
“That pitch, over the course of six months probably went through 30 revisions,” Urquhart said. “I personally had probably spent 80, 100 hours — just me — on that one pitch, answering every question and asking everything and working on the budget.”
Then Atari and Obsidian started working on a contract, which they had negotiated in full by the end of 2008. It was all set. Ready to be signed.
“And then we came back from break and they were like, ‘Okay, well this is going on, that’s going on — we’re real close. We should be able to sign it real soon and get it to you.'”
This was around the time that Obsidian’s Aliens RPG was cancelled — “so I would’ve had a lot of people to work on Baldur’s Gate 3,” Urquhart said. Then things started to stall. Atari seemed hesitant. They started to ask questions.
“Then they said they wanted to come see us to look at things,” he said. “And so they came into see us and they looked at things. And then about a week later they said you know we’re concerned that you can’t make the game. And then a week later all of Atari Europe was sold to Namco Bandai.”
Suddenly, the Atari producer that Obsidian had been working with was no longer at Atari.
“All this work got done,” Urquhart said. “We negotiated a whole contract. Years worth of work, and it turned out they didn’t have the money.”
This isn’t even the first time a Baldur’s Gate 3 project has been cancelled; Obsidian’s designers have shared a great deal of information about The Black Hound, their first swing at making Baldur’s Gate 3, which disappeared into the ether when Black Isle Studios dissolved back in 2003. (Many of the designers who worked at Black Isle wound up at Obsidian.)
Right now, the future of Baldur’s Gate 3 in any form is up in the air, but the folks at Beamdog — the company responsible for the Baldur’s Gate enhanced edition that came out last month — have expressed interest in one day doing a threequel to the classic D&D game, if their remakes sell well.
I asked Urquhart what he thought about Beamdog potentially doing Baldur’s Gate 3. He said he’d be bummed it wasn’t him making it, but he’s good friends with Trent Oster — the two worked together on Shattered Steel back in the late 90s — so he’d have to support a project like that.
“I’ve known Trent forever, and so I think that he gets it, and I think he’s into it, and so I think he could do it,” Urquhart said. “I dunno if they have a studio that can make Baldur’s Gate 3 the way that Bethesda made Fallout 3. They could make Baldur’s Gate 3 like we’re doing Project Eternity, but I don’t think they could move it in that direction.”
And if Beamdog approached Obsidian about working together on Baldur’s Gate 3 in some form?
“Yeah of course,” Urquhart said. “We wanna work on great games. If that was something they were interested in, sure, we’d totally talk about it.”
Check back on Kotaku Monday for more on Urquhart and an in-depth look at Obsidian Entertainment.