Saturday, 6 May 2017

Aesthetic Appreciation of BG2 - Part I


   A e s t h e t i c  A p p r e c i a t i o n  o f  B G 2   
   P a r t  I :  W o r l d  M a p  &  D i s t r i c t s  o f  A t h k a t l a   

• Part I: Districts of Athkatla • Part II: Outskirts & Towns • Part III:  Far-flung Regions • Part IV: Throne of Bhaal • Part V: The Tower versus The Keep.

   I n t r o d u c t i o n   

It's eye-candy time! Hi, my name's Lilura and welcome to my Aesthetic Appreciation series of posts; this one covering what I consider to be the choicest examples of area design in Baldur's Gate 2.

A picture says a thousand words. As such, and in stark contrast to my other write-ups which go into great detail, my commentary here will be sparse. No point clogging the post up with descriptions of images when people can see for themselves, and form their own impressions. So yeah, this series of posts is just for shits n gigs. If you want in-depth commentary on the Baldur's Gate series, please refer to my treatment of BG and BG2 (which only a handful of people have appreciated because, y'know, in-depth). 💔 And, depending on how keen you are, you could also check out the Baldur's Gate-esque campaigns available for Neverwinter Nights (see here) as well as my two-part analysis of the Infinity Engine user interface (see here). You won't find this sort of content anywhere else online so make yourself a cup of coffee, and I hope you enjoy the reads!

Anyway, it's funny how it took me 15 years before I saw these pre-rendered maps in their full glory (just a few days ago I started mucking around with them). I have left them un-watermarked so that people can enjoy them without a blemish. That said, there may be a few minor artifacts but I can't do anything about that; it just seems to be how they are in their raw form.

The raw image files have been manually extracted, downsized to 3000px in width, and converted by me for manageable presentation purposes (TIS→PNG→JPG). At 2-10mb the full-sized images are still quite large but at least they're down from 30mb!

   O v e r v i e w  — T h e  W o r l d  M a p   
   C o u n t r y  o f  A m n  — C a p i t a l  C i t y  :  A t h k a t l a   

A strong argument could be made for the campaign of Baldur's Gate 2 standing as the most epic in the entire genre. I mean, for a lot of people BioWare's representation of the city of Athkatla, the country of Amn, and the exotic locales that stretch out beyond the bounds of civilization, are without peer. The sprawling Shadows of Amn world map speaks for itself; and the best part is? It's actually much bigger than it looks because the hundreds of sub-areas are not even shown..! (In contrast, and in keeping with its campaign in general, the Throne of Bhaal world map is comparatively pathetic!)

This is the only map that is watermarked because I did it for my BG2 walkthrough a while back.


Athkatla (see inset, above) is Amn's capital city and one of its largest trade ports. The famous trade route that has featured in many RPGs over the years, known as the Coast Way, snakes its way 200 miles north, linking Athkatla to Baldur's Gate city.

The city of Athkalta is comprised of seven major districts and innumerable sub-areas that can be explored in non-linear fashion... from opulent palatial residences to the stinking slums; from minor abodes to mega-dungeons -  it's all here.

The rest of this post is given over to high resolution images of the seven major districts - surfaces only. Most of these districts feature vast subterranean areas, some which I'll cover when I get to the "Dungeons" post. I didn't bother with the Gates "district"; it's minor and unimpressive. 

   W a u k e e n ' s  P r o m e n a d e   

You dare to attack me here? Do you even know whom you face? You will suffer! You will ALL suffer!

Twice the size of Waterdeep's Market and built as an open, oval stadium surrounded by terraced 50-foot walls, Waukeen's Promenade lies at the city's center and provides four 75-foot-wide levels for consumer and mercantile traffic. — The Lands of Intrigue.

This district presents itself in spectacular fashion, with Irenicus destroying a large portion of the wall as he unleashes his arcane arsenal against the authorities of Athkatla, the Cowled Wizards. You can see the collapsed portion in the north, sealing off re-entry to the "Chateau" from which Irenicus emerged - with Charname and party in pursuit!

The conspicuous circus tent in the center contains a non-trivial illusion which must be dispelled if the party is to recruit the wingless Avariel, Aerie.

And, ofc, the Adventurer's Mart will be frequented by the heroic party over the course of the campaign. 


   T h e  S l u m s   

Coo!  You'd be the one I be looking for, if I not be mistaken?

The domed structure in the northwest is the Planar Sphere, a massive area in itself that I'll cover later. The Copper Coronet is also huge, with an entrance down to the sprawling sewers that lead to the slaver compound; the exit for which brings you back out to the surface, near Gaelan Bayle's home. Anomen, Korgan and Nalia can be recruited here; in fact, it's where most of the party members hang out (if they're told to).


   T h e  B r i d g e  D i s t r i c t   

I'm warning everyone, so as to get the word out that there are guards on the streets. We've had a...a string of killings, and I don't want any more happening.

What, a couple of fools die in a bar fight or something?

This is where we solve the first part of the Skinner Murders. The Planar Prison is accessed from the theater below the Five Flagons inn, centrally-located on this map. Also, Twisted Rune.


   T h e  D o c k s   

My name is Renal, as I'm sure you've been told. Renal 'Bloodscalp'...a little nickname I've earned over time. Rather grisly, but it keeps the fearful in line.

The Shadow Thieves are based in the northwest and the Harpers in the southwest. Mae'Var's thieves' guild is central on the lower tier of the docks, where Edwin can be recruited after jumping through hoops. A demi-lich dwells here, too! Naturally, this is also our point of departure when we set sail to Brynnlaw at Chapter 3's end.

Note the sloppy patchwork of buildings in the top-right corner of the image. Most people aren't gonna see that when they're playing, though. And the top-left corner is just left blank (but again, it isn't seen in normal game-play).


   T h e  G o v e r n m e n t  D i s t r i c t   

Look ye all upon this foul drow that we have bound before ye!  A creature of evil and darkness, my brethren!  A creature of foulness and deceit, bent only on our destruction!

Most prominent is the H.Q of the Council of Six, who are the true rulers of Athkatla (along with the Shadow Thieves). This is where the aristocrats live in their estates. Viccy and Jan are recruitable here.

Note the elevation of this district over the lowly peasant neighborhoods. :P


   T h e  T e m p l e  D i s t r i c t   

Death to the disbeliever!

Temples of this, that and the other. Also, guarded compound. The lengthy Unseeing Eye quest takes the party far below the district. The beholder and illithid encounters make this district one of the deadliest in Athkatla. Keldorn and Haer'Dalis can be picked up here. From memory, there is a path beneath the district that brings you out to the Docks.


   T h e  G r a v e y a r d   

You work for the Shadow Thieves, on the pretense they will help locate your missing companion, Imoen. Yes, they are Shadow Thieves, and yes, they are as nefarious as you have probably heard. I would offer an alternative.

Vamps! Bodhi lurks in her lair beneath these crypts.



   EoP  

11 comments:

  1. I'm quite sure Baldur's Gate city was just a single imagine, but I wonder if Athkatla's districts were also once a single imagine from which they were cropped out and then reshuffled in a chaotic manner and modified because, for example, the Nort-West side of the Temple District (beyond the wall) is clearly the Slums —you can see the Copper Coronet and the Jansen's house— and the Nort-Eastern part of the Graveyard is also the Slums (but not the other way around.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I have successfully pieced together BG city into a single seamless image, but it was a low res test (default map size rather than TIS).

      It would have been great if Athkatla's districts seamlessly interlocked, but it's a mess.

      Delete
  2. Yay, it was a beautiful experience visiting such a huge city...then I realized I had to swap cd 2 with cd 3 every time I entered the Temple district! ^^' Aesthetically better than Tarant, but hey it was rather annoying at the time.

    Speaking about aesthetic, Athkatla's maps remind me a lot of Lionheart maps: the colors and domes are quite similar (and also the idea of different districts).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I seem to recall there also being a fair bit of IWD/PS:T influence in Lionheart's aesthetics, too (mainly the colors and textures).

      Delete
    2. Interesting, I don't recall having to make that swap. I seem to recall it for when I went to Spellhold.

      Ahh, Good Times!

      Delete
    3. Could be a localization/install thing. Disc-swapping is something I've tried to forget about. :P

      I think BG1 was like 6 discs; BG2 5? Something like that. And they all got pretty scratched back in the day. I've long since made ISOs of them, ofc.

      Delete
    4. Bg2 was in 4 discs for Shadows of Amn + 1 for Throne of Bhaal.

      Well I don't remember if at the time there was a "full installation" option, anyway I am sure that I also had to change disc for exiting Athlanka too.

      But I miss the old videogame packagings...

      Delete
  3. That brings a lot of memories.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I remember that shadow thieves collapsed the wall in the promenade during their attack, not Irenicus himself.
    Personally I was surprised when I first saw Athkatla once I emerged from the dungeon back in a day. Its djinni/persian theme wasn't as appealing to me as "human" BG city :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Luce! I'll check up on that and fix it, if need be, upon reprisal of this write-up. Thanks!

      Delete

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