Retro Interview: Ray Music on Baldur’s Gate II, Neverwinter Nights, and other BioWare games

On August 3, 2023, the long-awaited Baldur’s Gate III, the third installment of the famous role-playing saga and the first game in the series from Belgium’s Larian Studios, was finally released for Windows PC. But to understand such a huge game, you need to spend several weeks in front of your computer. They say that there are 17,000 different endings (conditionally different) and 100 hours of gameplay in the main story alone. So, while we are all just starting to play, we decided to remind you how it all started and post an interview with BioWare founder Dr. Ray Muzyka he gave to Alex Ptytsia in September 2000, two weeks before the release of the legendary Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn. This interview took place at the ECTS 2000 game show in London on September 5, 2000, and was published in Home PC #11/2000 before the game review.

Olexandr Ptytsia
Guardian of “Baldur’s Gate”

Please introduce yourself!

Co-CEO (one of the two co-equal leaders) and Executive Producer of BioWare, Dr. Ray Muzyka.

Why a doctor? Doctor of Physics and Mathematics or Doctor of Medicine?

Surprisingly, I am actually a medical doctor. But, you see, BioWare is a big company with about a hundred employees and, you know, it would be very difficult to combine medical practice and management. Although sometimes I allow myself to “remember the old days” and take care of people’s health.

By the way, what is your medical specialty?

Family Medicine and Emergency Care. I actually worked as a family doctor in a small town for a while.

And why did you change your life so radically and switch from treatment to a completely different kind of activity – creating computer games?

My true love is video games, so the conversion was absolutely inevitable. I love to play and I love to develop games.

Let’s go back in time and talk about your gaming experience. How did your passion for gaming begin? What kind of games were they? On what platforms?

Around 1979 I started my “gaming career” on the Apple II. Even then, I was seriously “hooked” on the legendary pirate adventures of Scott Adams (text adventures of the company Adventure International, which were released in 1979-1982 – approx. from 2023). A little later, around 1980-1981, he went all out, playing his first Wizardry on the same Apple II.

And if I asked you to name your personal TOP 5 games of all time, what would it be?

First of all – System Shock and Ultima Underworld. Next, although it may seem immodest, I would add to the list Baldur’s GateII, which we just finished. In the fourth place Deus Ex, the classic five Wizardry I.

Wow, there are three Warren Spector games in the top five!

No surprise, I’m a big fan of his work. And he’s just a great guy. And he has a great team working with him.

I believe that Deus Ex is one of the main contenders for the title of Game of the Year 2000.

I don’t want to argue, but I hope that our Baldur’s Gate II will be able to compete with Deus Ex for this honor on equal terms.

Not that the game is finished, what are the main differences from the original Baldur’s Gate, and did you manage to do everything you had planned?

Of course, a year and a half is a long time (in the late 1990s and early 2000s, 1.5 years was considered a very long time to develop a game, now 5 years is sometimes not enough – about from 2023), during this time some ideas came and were embodied in lines of code, and something planned earlier died because it was unnecessary. But in general, I would like to say that the Infinity engine has improved significantly. But that is not the most important thing. The plot, the intrigue, and thus the immersion in the game’s reality are much deeper than in the first Baldur’s Gate. I would say that Baldur’s Gate II is “darker” than its predecessor, but at the same time the game has a lot of humor. I could go on and on about all the new monsters and spells (there are about 300 of them), but I’d like to emphasize that the main thing for me is the story. It is the story that motivates and keeps the player in the world we have created: I’m going to do another subquest, finish another chapter, explore another location, and so on ad infinitum.

The nature of the game itself hasn’t changed much, we just tried to improve literally all of its components – interface, gameplay, graphics, animations, scripts, but I repeat, the story comes first.

The game is about to be released. We will be able to conduct its “field tests” ourselves, get a first taste of the game, and express our opinions. For you, Baldur’s Gate II is a milestone, but there’s another “shining peak” ahead of us – Neverwinter Nights. What about it?

Both Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II are focused primarily on single-player gameplay. Today, multiplayer is at stake, and Neverwinter Nights will be our tribute to fans of collective gaming. If everything goes as planned, you will have a game that can evoke in players the same experiences and emotions that they would get from sitting together at the same table, rolling dice and playing their roles in the tabletop “Dungeons and Dragons”. Although I do not like loud words and excessive pathos, I will say that Neverwinter Nights is a truly revolutionary project. How about a game that allows users to add their own content and a Master (tabletop RPG host – author’s note) to model the game. Users will receive a toolkit that allows them to create their own game modules. The Dungeon Master will have unique “powers” – to direct dialogue, place and “inhabit” monsters and non-player characters (NPCs), and set combat rules.

And what about the “losers” who have no Internet connection at all, or whose connection quality leaves much to be desired? The vast majority of players in our country cannot boast about their online victories for this very reason.

Neverwinter Nights will not be without a single-player storyline, don’t worry. Also, we will not stop, rest assured that the new project will be overgrown with paid and free add-ons.

Have you heard the name MDK Armageddon in the press? What kind of “beast” is it?
MDK Armageddon is a new incarnation of MDK2, this time for Sony PlayStation 2.

There are no significant differences from the PC and Dreamcast versions, except for a slightly expanded plot and slightly improved graphics.

Ray, I won’t let you go until you tell me a little bit about your new massive project – a Star Wars RPG (which will later be called Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic – approx. . from 2023), of course, within the limits allowed at such an early stage of work.

This work is very important to BioWare and to me personally, and we are overwhelmed with a range of emotions, from pride in the honor we have been given to great excitement. You know how many people around the world are under the magical power of the Star Wars words.

It is too early to talk about specific details, except to say a few words about the plot. It is based on a series of comic books published by Dark Horse, which takes place four thousand years before the events of Episode I. It was at that time that the confrontation between the light Jedi Knights, the future defenders of the Republic, and the Sith, the servants of the dark side, was born. This is the source of all the storylines of all the movies we know.

This game is coming soon. Lucas Arts scheduled it for release in 2002 (as we now know, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic won’t be released until summer 2003 – approx. from 2023) By the way, it will be released on multiple platforms at the same time. In addition to PC, we are considering PlayStation 2, Dreamcast and Mac as the most likely candidates. We are currently working on concept art and discussing game design. And yes, the three-dimensional engine for Star Wars will be our own and completely new.

(Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic used the Odyssey Engine, an updated version of the Aurora Engine from Neverwinter Nights. The same Aurora Engine that powered the first The Witcher by CD Projekt Red – approx. from 2023)

By the way, I’m a long-time Star Wars fan, but much to my regret, last year’s The Hidden Threat evoked nothing but negative emotions. What is your favorite movie in the series?

“Episode V. The Empire Strikes Back”.

I come from Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, and I am here in London at ECTS 2000 representing the Ukrainian magazine Home PC. I hear something so familiar and close in your name.

I will not hide the fact that the historical homeland of my ancestors is Ukraine, although I have never been there myself. And I would like to… Unfortunately, I can’t boast of being fluent in the language of your country, although I know a few words.

I hope that you will find a few days in between BioWare’s “epoch-making” games to visit us in Kiev. We would be very happy to see you again.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this interview in Home PC #11/2000 preceded the review of Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn. But that review was written in an experimental way, which now seems inappropriate to the author. The game received high scores and the Game of the Issue award.

At the end of 2000, Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn collected a number of RPG of the Year and Game of the Year awards, and later appeared on numerous “Best Games of All Time” lists. But as Alex Ptytsia predicted, the Home PC Game of the Year award went to Warren Spector’s Deus Ex and Ion Storm. Baldur’s Gate II won the RPG of the Year award. Readers at that time chose Diablo II as “Game of the Year”.

Almost all of the classic BioWare games mentioned in this interview have later received improved versions that run on modern PCs: Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition, Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition, Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition. And rumors about a possible remake of Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic are circulating from the beginning of 2023, so we are waiting for news.

Ray Muzyka worked at BioWare until October 2012, and his last game as co-chairman of the company was Mass Effect 3, which many consider to be BioWare’s last good game. But Dr. Muzyka’s name is still with ‘appears in the credits of various games, usually as Special Thanks from the authors.

In 2018. Ray Music received the Order of Canada, the country’s second highest honor. Currently, Ray Muzyka and his company ThresholdImpact are engaged in socially transformative investments (Impact investing) in medicine, biotechnology, health care, etc.

As for Baldur’s Gate III, that’s a different story. We hope that Dr. Ray Music is still playing and will enjoy the new part of “his game” from the Belgian Larian Studios.

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