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Icewind Dale II Interview

Part 1

Myrthos, 2002-11-06

Icewind 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 at BIS?

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.

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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 could advance.

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 game now?

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.

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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.


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