Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition(s) creator Beamdog is celebrating the original game’s 25th anniversary by holding a contest to turn two fans of the series into in-game character portraits drawn by O.G. BioWare artist, Mike Sass. Prospective Sword Coast inhabitants are encouraged to provide reference photos, character notes, and any other supplementary material to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As our games’ graphical fidelity has exponentially improved over the past 20 years, we’ve lost something vital along the way: the art of RPG character portraits. As you clicked around leading a blurry sprite or chunky early 3D model in Baldur’s Gate or Neverwinter Nights, the thing that really brought them to life was the hazy, wonderful, fantasy novel cover art-style portrait in their character sheet.
Beamdog’s announcement also contained a letter from Mike Sass himself that includes some nostalgic musings about the early days of BioWare. “Back in the day, as a 90s startup based in Canada, most of the BioWare employees were generalists, and we were all learning on the job,” Sass writes.
“Since none of us were experienced artists at that point, nobody could seem to craft a professional-looking painting. Using Photoshop version three, my attempts seemed to be passable, so I became the portrait artist. Little did I realize, BG would be a hit, these images would resonate, and I would have a 25-year career painting art for videogames!”
That early work from Sass still has this wonderful, pulp paperback quality that I’m an absolute sucker for—it reminds me of Dave Mattingly’s grouchy, subway riding, beer-shotgunning wizards, the art of the Elminster Saga, or the covers of old Star Wars Expanded Universe novels.
Version 2!! Probably the last version. Thx to @kalvinlyle for the tips!! @BaldursGate @bioware pic.twitter.com/kYDCswzbVNMarch 3, 2022
Last year, a Twitter user with the handle @perrowish got in contact with Sass for some portrait forensics, identifying and assigning proper credit and even some original reference images for these classic bits of CRPG history. Now you too can join the rarefied company of these circa-1998 BioWare employees and assorted Edmonton residents!
You have until March 6 to make your own play at CRPG immortality, and if all this talk of the early days of BioWare has you feeling nostalgic, why not check out Graeme Mason’s 2021 feature for us about the history of Baldur’s Gate?
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