Earlier this week, the developer behind Baldur’s Gate 3, Larian Studios, invited press to watch hours of gameplay in which a developer died over and over again in the difficult isometric RPG based on Dungeons and Dragons. I went because the Baldur’s Gate series is one of my absolute favourite ever made—and also because the third in the series is one of the highest-profile games coming to Stadia this year, and I’m on a quest to understand the cloud gaming platform (and its slowly-growing roster of rivals).
Stadia has not been having a great time since it rolled out late last year. The initial launch was met with little more than a whimper from the press and public. Sure, the promise of Stadia was extraordinary, but what was delivered on launch day felt like a polished beta that needed something more. Google then went long stretches between announcements for the platform, leading to a furor in the Stadia subreddit that was so large Google was forced to respond.
The company has at least admitted the issue. Last week, Stadia’s director of product management, Andrey Doronichev, even told me how much he appreciated fan criticism because it helped him make a bigger product.
Stadia also announced support for a wider range of phones last week. Yet right now, if you’re a Stadia subscriber, it’s still hard to be as enthusiastic about the platform you would be as the owner of a Switch or a PS4.
There just aren’t a lot of games available, and what games are available aren’t any different from their counterparts on other platforms. If you’ve played Destiny 2 on PC or PS4, then you’ve played it on Stadia.
Larian Studio developers tell me Stadia’s not especially difficult to develop for. One even noted that the platform is essentially like developing for a Linux box, albeit one that actually helps inform developing for the Windows build of the game, too.
“Certain Stadia deadlines or milestones or quirks, we have to iron them out anyway,” executive producer David Walgrave told me after the Baldur’s Gate 3 demo. “Usually this was something that we did at the end of the line. So I think it is helping production.”
The ease of porting to the system is one of the reasons Baldur’s Gate 3 is coming to Stadia instead of a more traditional console. But Walgrave said the decision was also inspired by the potential for Stadia.
“It’s very hard to sell a game like Original Sin, and Baldur’s Gate will be the same because there is so much gameplay that comes out of it that you cannot catch in the screenshot or any video,” Walgrave said. “There’s a lot of emergent gameplay interactivity. Chaos. Cheesing. Glitching. You know, all that stuff is very hard to show. You can just say that in your Steam description.”
Walgrave pointed to the potential of seeing gameplay in a YouTube video, pushing a button, and be playing on Stadia. The audience participation piece is something journalists got a taste of when watching the developers play for nearly three hours.
The game, being based on Dungeons and Dragons, is heavily reliant on dice mechanics. So if you try to persuade a character to your line of thinking, you’ll have to roll a dice and get over a certain number. We helped developers choose what dialog to select and which characters to attack, then laughed when the dice rolls wound up not being in their favour.
Walgrave told me that there are even plans to let viewers watching Stadia streams actually affect the dice roll mechanics in the game. That’s a bold vision, and with Baldur’s Gate 3 not expected until much later this year, it gives us a clearer idea of where Stadia could be heading, too.