Baldur’s Gate 3 is perhaps the most LGBTQ+-friendly AAA video game ever made. It’s also one of the best role-playing games ever, according to Metacritic, the premier website owned by Fandom that aggregates reviews of films, television shows, music albums and video games.
BG3 by Ghent, Belgium-based Larian Studios, is a series of role-playing video games set in the Forgotten Realms Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting. The game has spawned two series, known as the Bhaalspawn Saga and the Dark Alliance.
BG3 was released on Aug. 3, 2023 to widespread critical acclaim. Unusual for a AAA game, it had spent six years in development, and almost three years of that in early access open beta testing. Larian Studios developed BG3 as a sequel to the first two games, which were released in 1998 and 1999 respectively.
Recently the Blade had the opportunity to interview two of the key figures in the game’s development.
Actress Jennifer English played the role of Shadowheart, one of the main characters of the game with whom the player can have a romantic relationship, regardless of their gender. Her partner is Aliona Baranova, an actress and motion capture performer who worked as one of the Performance Directors on the game. They met during the production of the game and worked closely together during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. English identifies as lesbian and queer, while Baranova identifies as bisexual and queer. They graciously agreed to give the Blade an hour of their time, right after a grueling weekend at London Comic Con.
Blade: How was London Comic Con 2023? How were you both received?
English: It was like being a rock star. It was incredible. We were both there for Comic Con  this time last year [and] when I first turned up there was no one in my queue [for autographs]. Now this year, there were people queuing for 6 hours at one point. It was absolute madness. But it was also just really beautiful.
We did one of the panels [this year]. And I was expecting it to be like a 500 or 1,000 seater. When I looked out, it was about 4,000 people. It was really wonderful because Aliona was next to me the whole time, and so many people wanted her autograph as well–like a good third to a half.
Baranova: The number of people that wanted to take a photo of the both of us was so touching, as was how many people [that] came up to us and said, “We watch your streams” and told us that the representation that we gave them, and how open we are about being neuro divergent, was so meaningful.
Did either of you play Dungeons and Dragons before you started work on this game?
English: I always wanted to. I just hadn’t been invited.
Baranova: No, never!
English: I was really lucky that the first time I got to play D&D was with the cast for High Rollers, and we got Mark Humes, who was the best dungeon master, to walk us through it. We felt so safe and guided. It was a really wonderful start into D&D. The space felt very welcome as well, which was nice, and no one seemed to mind too much that we were fumbling through somewhat. And it was really nice to play together as a couple.
You posted how you auditioned for the role of Shadowheart in BG3, and Jennifer got it. This led to an interesting start to your relationship.
Baranova: So I auditioned, and didn’t get the part. And then another call went out looking for people that had mocap (motion capture) experience, which I did have, to direct. When I sent in my mocap reel I was secretly hoping they’d watch and think, she should be in the game as an actor. But no, they didn’t. They rang me to say they thought I should direct.
I came to direct, did a couple of sessions, and then, during my fourth or fifth session, Jen comes in to record Shadowheart. Everyone is telling me “Jennifer is coming in today. She’s lovely. You’re gonna love her”. And I’m like, yeah, yeah, I’ll see.
When Jen came into the studio she was an absolute ray of sunshine. It was sickening–she was so wonderful, I could not hate her. I wanted to, so badly, but I just couldn’t. She got along with everyone; she was so friendly. I thought, “you’re making this so hard for me”.
Then we went in to record, and I thought, okay, well, maybe she’s not that good at the role, and I can swoop in and save the day and be Shadowheart instead. But she was amazing. I wanted to hate her even more, but I couldn’t, because she was so talented and incredible. I was very naive and very confident. I definitely couldn’t do what Jen has achieved, and she was a far better performer than I was back then. I’ve learned a lot from her since then to become a better performer myself.
It could have gone one of 2 ways: I could sabotage her and direct her really badly, or I could help this incredible and kind woman out and be a good director for her. The rest is history. And I think we nailed it with Shadowheart.
Jennifer, how did you find out Aliona wanted to be frenemies initially?
English: I can’t remember how I found out, but I remember being shocked, to say the least. And now we laugh about it quite a lot.
What was it like finding the character of Shadowheart?
English: I found the voice quite easily, and felt like I accessed her [character] reasonably quickly. There was a lot of collaboration and creativity involved with it. But the one thing I really struggled with at the beginning was the physical side of it, because it’s such an overwhelming thing…you’re put into a grey room with loads of cameras on you, and you’re wearing what is essentially a Velcro cat suit with bobbles on it, and then you’re just told to act naturally.
One thing that Aliona quickly picked up on was the fact that I have ADHD. A lot of our creative process together was working to find Shadowheart within that—to not fight against it, but use it. That was really wonderful.
Are you having any problems with people blurring the line between Shadowheart and Jennifer when you meet them in real life or online, or are people pretty good about keeping them keeping them distinct?
English: I think if I had [Shadowheart’s] kind of black cat energy, perhaps. But I am a golden retriever puppy with blonde hair that’s five foot one. I don’t have that kind of statuesque, armor-clad cleric-of-Shar thing going on. So I think our energies are so distinct that it would be pretty impossible to get us confused.
There is a lot of me in Shadowheart, because I wanted to make her as truthful as possible. [She’s] the part of myself that you’d have to find me in a very vulnerable state to see. That’s a deeper part of myself. Certainly not one that you’d see at Comic-con, or if you bumped into me on the train.
I know people who generally don’t like video games who are really into BG3. What’s your take on why this is?
English: Yeah, it’s interesting, isn’t it? Baldur’s Gate 3 is mainstream. It’s been on South Park.
Baranova: It’s the mocap. It’s not often that you have nearly all 248 actors do their own mocap. I think that’s why it feels like a TV show or film. I’m biased, but I do think it makes a difference, because I’ve looked at another recent release and you can tell that the voice is done separately from who’s doing the body. You can’t care for them as much as you do in this game, because there’s a disconnect.
English: It feels quite jarring because you can’t be immersed in this in the same way, you can tell everyone’s acting, whereas [Baldur’s Gate 3] feels like people are their characters. They’re so good in them.
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