Tobold's Blog
Sunday, April 18, 2021
How important is NPC animation for you?

This is Sebille. Sebille is a NPC companion, an elvish rogue with a complicated backstory, in Larian Studio's Divinity Original Sin 2.

This is Astarion. Astarion is a NPC companion, an elvish rogue with a complicated backstory, in Larian Studio's Baldur's Gate 3.

In game, both Sebille and Astarion are relatively small on the isometric map, when you play at a usual zoom level. You only really "see" their faces when you talk with them. As as you can see from the above examples, Sebille is a static portrait, while Astarion is fully animated in 3D. All 5 NPC companions in Baldur's Gate are fully animated and voiced in long dialogue cutscenes. And those scenes are graphically far more demanding than the isometric maps and UI. In other words, a significant chunk of the budget for Baldur's Gate 3 went into replacing the portrait of Sebille with an animated Astarion. And I wonder if that budget wouldn't have been better spent elsewhere.

As a player of D&D, I would like to see all 12 basic D&D classes in Baldur's Gate 3 (13 with the Artificer). I would like to see more subclasses, I would like to see more spells. And I would like to see a lot of quality of life improvements to the somewhat clunky UI, and the horrible inventory management system. And instead of all that, I get an animated Astarion. For me that animation isn't doing much. Yes, it's pretty, but I'd rather have a better user interface and more character choices.

What do you think? Are animated NPCs a reason to buy one game rather than another for you? Or do they provide relatively little bang for the buck, which should have been spent elsewhere?

I can't see any good reason why, in 2021, players shouldn't expect fully animated, voiced cutscenes and a smooth, flexible UI with excellent inventory management. It's not any kind of either/or. As for the number of classes and spells and so on, I'd prefer a smaller number of both. I used to think more was better but in practice I mostly end up choosing from a much smaler subset of things I know and like so the rest are irrelevant.
Animated cutscenes are a waste of resources as far as I am concerned. And arguably the modern language of computerised animated expressions adds little to voice animation, which itself can often be poor.
I feel I need to point out that of the games you are comparing one is fully completed and the other early release.

BG3 has room for improvement before official release.
My first thought is it's not good value until you hit the "tipping point." It's hard to justify spending the budget on enhancements and frills. Unless you are going for some retro vibe, or it is a crowdfunded game that is upfront it is doing a specific subset of a AAA game, my theory is that every person has unique point at which they look at it and say no; too Spartan, too bare-bones, too old (is there a greater indictment these days?)

So perhaps if you are comfortable telling your customers and devs that this is not a AAA game, then the budget can be better spent than on frills, which I would consider this. OTOH, if you are competing in the top tier, then you probably need to; expectations are rising every year.
I do not need animations. I've played a number of games with just character portraits, and I am fine with that.

But if you want to sell your game to a large audience? Sadly, it does not matter how good the gameplay is if the visual frills don't meet current public expectations.
Me personally I dont care either way. But you are being a tad bit facetious here. The people who developed the animated portraits arent going to be the same people who design classes or subclasses.

And Larian isnt a small studio anymore. There is no reason they can't provide quality UI and also game content. It's not an either or situation.

I believe Larian have said all the base 5e classes will be in the game by the time it's out of early access.

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