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The Brains Behind Black Isle

While Baldur's Gate 2 is primarily the result of the hands-on work of the folks at Bioware, we shouldn't downplay the importance of the team at Black Isle Studios, who have co-produced the Baldur's Gate games, and developed both Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale in-house at Interplay.

Though not nearly as well known as other higher-profile game designers in the business, both Division Director Feargus Urkuhart and Senior Producer Chris Parker have emerged as two of the most important RPG developers around. Here's what they have to say for themselves.

Interview With Feargus Urkuhart Black Isle's Division Director

Who are you and why should we care?

I'm the Division Director for Black Isle Studios. I manage all of Black Isle's internal and external products and I sometimes play at being a designer, as with Fallout 2. My main responsibility is making sure that Black Isle products live up to what we have done in the past, and that we continually evolve in what we develop.

How do you explain your incredible success the last few years? All of a sudden, beginning with Fallout, Interplay has produced one great RPG after another. What changed?

The main change at Interplay was the division of development that started to occur in 1996. With the founding of the Black Isle division, we were able to focus on making RPGs and only RPGs. Then after Fallout, even with the departure of a number of Black Isle employees over to Troika [now working on Arcanum—Ed.], we've been able to have a relatively stable development staff, allowing us to take what we've learned and apply that to future games. We have also been very lucky in our relationship with Bioware, in that we've been able to work very closely with them and with the engine they created for the original Baldur's Gate, the Bioware Infinity Engine. Coupled with our focus, I think we've also been successful because we've been relatively careful about the technological scope of our products. We realize that the success of an RPG is based in the gameplay and the content created for it, and not always in the technology. So, we have focused our efforts on delivering the best content, in engines that are as new as possible—but are not on the bleeding edge.

Were you a big D&D player in real life? If so—describe your character in your current (or favorite) campaign.

I've played D&D/AD&D since I was about 12. However, the longest campaign that I played in was actually a Shadowrun game. My character in that was a Dwarven Street Samurai named SPUD! who had two things on his mind: money and finding out where to get more money.

3rd-Edition rules: cool beans, or a fiasco? What are the best/most exciting things about the rule changes to you? Does anything suck?

After reading through the Player's Handbook two or three times, I can pretty much say that it is probably the best thing that has ever happened to D&D. The rules are much more modern and in a word, it's just smoother. The best thing, though, is that it is still D&D. Wizards of the Coast was able to update the rules without losing the things that make it feel like the game I've played for almost 20 years.

Will you play BG2, or are you sick of it already?

Actually I'm playing it right now. A small confession I have is that I never got past Chapter 5 in the original BG, but I'm hoping to finish BG2 before it comes out.

Interview With Chris Parker Black Isle's Baldur's Gate 2 Producer

Who are you and why should we care?

I'm Chris Parker, a Senior Producer in Black Isle Studios, and to be perfectly honest I really don't have any idea why anyone would care. But I have been the producer on Baldur's Gate, Tales of the Sword Coast, Icewind Dale, and Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn.

What were your responsibilities on BG2? What does a producer do? Is it kind of like a movie director?

My responsibility is Baldur's Gate II. I primarily coordinate, communicate, and approve in all areas of bringing the game to the shelf. I work with PR (press and public relations), marketing (creation of ads, box materials, promotional materials, etc.), quality assurance (game testing), audio (music, VO, SFX), and anybody else that does anything for BGII or Black Isle at Interplay. I work with Wizard of the Coast because of the Forgotten Realms license. I work with Bioware on essentially all aspects of development, but they actually do all of the design, art, and programming. In the end, I am basically personally responsible for the whole ball of wax.

Were you a big D&D player in real life?

I have played various pen and paper RPGs over the years. Mostly AD&D, but a lot of other games too. I think my favorite character was a fighter named Jered. He was a total power-gaming character—1st-Edition with Unearthed Arcana rules. He dual-wielded daggers that he was double-specialized with. Even at first level, this gave him something like 5/2 attacks and he was around +4/+7 To Hit and damage. So in a good round, he would do around 20-30 damage at first level. Hehe. I'm not even sure the rules actually allowed that, but they did when I was 15...I had a lot of fun with that character. He died a lot.

3rd-Edition rules: cool beans, or a fiasco? What are the best/most exciting things about the rule changes to you? Does anything suck?

I like the 3rd-Edition rules a lot. I actually did some beta testing on them last year and I thought they were great. The overall changes to combat make the game both more intriguing and quicker to play, which was one of my old complaints about 2nd Edition. In 2nd Edition, your combat options for a fighter type were basically move and attack— but if you were a thief, you wondered if you wanted to hide in shadows before you moved or attacked, etc. In 3rd Edition, you can do all this semi-complex stuff, but it's all blended into a pretty swank system.

Will you play BG2, or are you sick of it already?

I will probably still be working on my current game of BG2. I've been working on it for about two weeks and I haven't gotten out of Chapter 2 yet! I don't know how long it would take to get sick of it. There are so many levels and branches of complexity that you could probably play through it five times and still be finding stuff you had no idea was even there. I'm not even remotely sick of it yet—playing it is actually the part of my job I look forward to the most.
Computer Gaming World   [posted on: Oct 03 2000 12:00:00:000AM]

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Copyright (c) 2001 ZD Inc. All Rights Reserved. ZDNet and ZDNet logo are registered trademarks of ZD Inc. Content originally appearing in Computer Gaming World Copyright (c) 2001 Ziff Davis Media. All Rights Reserved. Computer Gaming World and Ziff Davis Media are trademarks of Ziff Davis Publishing Holdings Inc.