Icewind Dale II Interview
Dale II is the sequel to Icewind Dale and it's expansion pack
Heart of Winter. It is based on a very modified Infinity Engine
allowing the usage of 3rd Edition rules. Including new races,
classes, feats, skills and a whole lot more it promises to
be more than just a sequel.
We put some questions to Dave Maldonado to find out a bit
more about the game.
RPGDot: In case someone doesn't know who you are, could
you fill them in on who Dave Maldonado is and what he does
Dave: I'm currently a designer for Black Isle Studios
- I put together areas, create stories and dialogs, assemble
character and item backgrounds, that sort of thing. I was
brought in a few years back in order to work on Planescape:
Torment (as a designer) and they've (foolishly?) let me hang
around ever since. I was the Design Lead for the defunct TORN
project, and am currently finishing up my work as a designer
on Icewind Dale 2.
I'm quite pleased to find that I've been given the chance
to lead a project again (uh oh... cross your fingers, everyone),
though I can't currently speak about the project itself...
it's super-secret (shhhh!). And no, it's not Fallout Fantasy.
RPGDot: Last year around this time you were hunted down
by every newssite to spill the beans on TORN. We know what
happened to TORN, but how did you experience that period after
the announcement at E3?
Dave: Hrm... I'm not sure how to answer that without
rambling on for pages... probably the most succinct way to
put it is that I enjoyed working on TORN, I learned quite
a bit from the experience, but while very enthusiastic about
it, it wasn't quite my 'baby' - that is, it wasn't my 'games
of games' that I'd always dreamt of making or some such. Had
it been, I'm sure the blow would have been a terrible one...
sent me scampering under my desk to cry with my thumb in my
mouth, heh! Don't get me wrong - it was great to be in that
position, to have that job - but it was still just a job,
nothing mind-blowing. It seemed to involve more bickering,
scheduling, politicking, and delegation than anything else
- the best bit was probably going around early on and seeing
what people wanted to see in the story, the world, and trying
to incorporate all of it into TORN (not that that was such
a great idea, but it was fun nonetheless!). Still, it was
sad to see something that the team put so much work and time
eventually go so terribly awry.
I imagine that by the time it was canceled I wasn't the only
one relieved (in some weird, almost guilt-ridden sense of
the word), because unless heaping truckloads of free time
and money were to have magically dropped from the sky, we
weren't in any position to make TORN the game we wanted to
in the time we had left.
RPGDot: Are there any valuable lessons that were learned
and were done differently for Icewind Dale II and Lionheart?
Dave: I think we come away having learned quite a
bit after every project, cancelled or otherwise. Since we
were working with a known quantity again (the Infinity Engine),
most of our 'applied lessons' revolved around scheduling and
management. Of course, we've already learned a whole slew
of new lessons the hard way during IWD2's development...
As for Lionheart - since that's largely out of house, I'm
not really the one to comment. You'd have to ask Chris Parker,
BIS's producer on the title.
RPGDot: When did the idea of Icewind Dale II became more of
a reality and why Icewind Dale II?
Dave: Immediately before TORN was cancelled, though
the idea had been floating around since the first Icewind
Dale had been finished, of course. The division's experience
with the Infinity Engine meant that another similar title
could be produced in twelve to eighteen (rather then eighteen
to twenty-four or more) months, the first game had proven
a success and a sequel would likely be smiled upon by many,
and so on.
A few members of the Planescape: Torment team had expressed
interest in doing another Infinity Engine game (whether Icewind
Dale 2 or something else) before work on TORN had even begun,
and at some point - during one of the bleaker periods of TORN's
development - we suggested it again in the hopes of pausing
art and design development on TORN while programming and technology
In the end, I don't imagine that anyone was surprised when
it turned out that we'd be moving from TORN to Icewind Dale
2 when the project was canceled.
RPGDot: First there were the enhancements of BGII planned
to go into Icewind Dale II like kits and a few 3rd edition
enhancement. Then you made a complete(r) move to 3rd edition.
Why did you consider it? Is IWDII in your opinion a better
Dave: I don't want to put words in the mouth of Josh
Sawyer, the game's Lead Designer at that point in development
and champion of the 2nd edition to 3rd edition switch, but
there were a multitude of reasons. We wanted to do something
more with the sequel, not just add some more dungeons, kits,
and monsters and call it a day. We believed the 3E rules set
would provide a better game-play experience, and they seem
to be doing that admirably - more balanced, a wider variety
of player options, easier for new gamers to understand, and
so on. I could go on, but suffice to say that we simply felt
the conversion would make Icewind Dale 2 a better game despite
the effort it would entail.
And in my opinion, worthless as that may be, yes: I feel
the game is much better for it. The poor programmers might
protest, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep and well-scarred by
the producers' whips as they are, but I'm certainly glad that
Josh pushed for the change and that management allowed for
it to happen.
RPGDot: As the Infinity Engine never was designed to support
3rd edition rules, there must have been some doubts about
the possibility of this all. When or what was the turning
point for going full steam ahead with it?
Dave: It was the culmination of a few things, I think.
Bits n' pieces of the 3E rules set had been filtering into
the game for months. I believe Josh and some others had been
asking for a full conversion for some time - there was quite
a bit of debate on the matter as no one was so foolish as
to take the decision lightly. And then at some point we were
blessed with a significant time extension on the project --
big enough to go from "there's no blasted way that we
can do this" to "whoah, hey, we can make a really
good game here!" -- and BAM!, there it went.
RPGDot: How would someone not being familiar with 3rd edition
rules experience the game? Would they require a learning curve
to be able to play the game or could they just go ahead without
worrying too much about the rules?
Dave: The 3rd edition rules (or our implementation
of them, at least) should be easy for just about anyone to
pick up. We've tried to include as much information in the
game itself (rather than only in the manual) as possible -
tips on loading screens, detailed character records and explanations
of all things therein, and so on. I don't believe anyone will
have a hard time of it, even those totally new to D&D
(3rd edition or otherwise).
In fact, a number of the division's artists have recently
started to play the game, some of whom who had never even
played a CRPG before (*GASP*). One afternoon later I went
out to lunch with a couple of them and they're talking like
hoary D&D veterans, planning feats twelve levels in advance
and rambling on about the Sleep spell's limited duration of
effectiveness and how it should always go to wizards rather
than sorcerers or bards... pretty funny to see.
RPGDot: Icewind Dale was geared towards combat while still
having a good story. Is the combat/story relation in IWD2
similar? And what is the background story?
Dave: Combat plays just as important a role - it is
an Icewind Dale game after all! - but such ought to require
a quite bit more thought and a wider variety of tactics than
in the original game. We've tried to include a wide number
of fight 'types' - and I don't just mean "OK there are
trolls here, but trolls with GIANTS over here," but more
along the lines of "OK in this area there are certain
monsters that call in reinforcements until stopped so you
need to target them first, whereas in this area it's all about
close-quarters fighting and being wary of ambushes from dark
corners as many monsters here can cling to walls or ceilings."
It's likely that everyone and their grandma has heard the
background story by now, so I'll just merrily regurgitate
the following with a soft gurgling sound:
"The call has gone out across the Sword Coast; the
Ten-Towns of Icewind Dale are paying handsomely for mercenaries,
soldiers, and adventurers of all types to sail north and
defend the town of Targos from the encroaching goblinoid
hordes. An unknown power is attempting to force the Ten-Towns
to bow to their will. You and your stalwart band of would-be
heroes to find out who or what is behind this and stop them
at all costs."
RPGDot: Is Icewind Dale II bigger than Icewind Dale? And
how many hours of gameplay do you think it has?
Dave: Definitely. Quite a bit bigger, in fact. I've
had games go on in excess of one hundred hours, though I'm
sure if I was just playing for kicks I'd get through somewhere
between seventy and ninety. I normally don't care to make
such predications, but I think players will be quite pleased
with the game's length.
RPGDot: How linear is the gameplay in IWD2 in comparison
with its predecessor?
Dave: Just as linear, for the most part, though there
are quite a few more side quests and a good deal more role-playing
that has a direct effect on the game. There are even areas
that some parties will find to be hostile 'dungeons' while
other parties will find them to be neutral (or even friendly!)
'rest stops' to heal up, trade items, and so on... it all
depends on the party's make-up, prior actions and so on.
RPGDot: Can I finish quests (or even the game) in a different
way, based on the choices I make and/or my alignment?
Dave: Certain quests, yes, though not all of them.
Many times they're broken down along either Good (often more
difficult to accomplish) vs. Evil lines, or Combat vs. Non-Combat
(often requires a variety of skills and character of a certain
type) lines. Some, though, have a variety of possible solutions
that have little to do with morality or combat - they're simply
more options for the player.