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Cancelled Premium Module Interview - Alan Miranda (Darkness over Daggerford)

We have an interview with Ossian Studios' Lead Designer, Alan Miranda, who was a former producer for BioWare working on both Baldur's Gate II and NWN. He talks to us about his cancelled premium module, Darkness over Daggerford which is now available free to the community. Topics of the interview include his background, an overview of the module, some of the top features, the setting, challenges in creating the module and more.- August 17th 2006

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1) Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?

My name is Alan Miranda, CEO of Ossian Studios. I am a former BioWare Producer, having worked on such games as Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal and Neverwinter Nights. I am both the Producer and Lead Designer on Ossian Studios' Neverwinter Nights module, Darkness over Daggerford, which, until recently, was a BioWare Premium Module - yes, there is a story behind all that.

2) It comes as a total surprise that there was another cancelled Premium Module and even more surprising that it was being done by a former employee of BioWare. Could you tell us what the module is about?

The BioWare Premium Mod program was cancelled after Atari stopped giving approvals, and I think you could say that we were the ones who were totally surprised. It was at that point that we decided to keep quiet on our game and concentrate on completing it to the highest level of quality. It gave us a bit of breathing room that actually made the module better.

Darkness over Daggerford is a classic Dungeons & Dragons adventure that takes place in and around the town of Daggerford, which is located along the Sword Coast in between Waterdeep and Baldur's Gate. It was a famous locale in 2nd edition D&D, which is one of the reasons why we chose that setting. It's also in proximity to where Hordes of the Underdark took place, and so progresses the adventure for NWN players to the next logical destination southward. Given the strong Baldur's Gate feel of our game, we think of it as a thematic bridge between the Neverwinter series and the Baldur's Gate series.

At the start of the game, the player is travelling along the Trade Way towards Daggerford, when they become embroiled in an unfortunate turn of events. This is closely tied in with the increasingly concerning situation for the town of Daggerford. Duke Pwyll Greatshout, the town's leader, was recently killed by a beast while on a hunt, despite him being an experienced hunter and warrior. Not long afterward, livestock grazing in the pastures to the south of Daggerford began vanishing into thin air! And to top it off, bandits have started to attack caravans along the Trade Way with increasing frequency. Amidst all of this, a prominent merchant by the name of Matagar Bugo has risen to become the new leader of Daggerford and titles himself the Baron of Daggerford. Times are changing in this sleepy town, and it's up to you to get to the bottom of these mysteries!

3) How many hours were put into the module and what are some of the features that make it stand out?

Frankly, the number of hours that have been poured into this game by our team are uncountable. Development on Darkness over Daggerford has been ongoing for over a year now. There are two reasons for this.

The first is that we set our scope to be rather large…perhaps even too large. Daggerford had to be the biggest and best Premium Mod ever released. Over time, we realized that this was far more than a Premium Mod, and much more the size of an expansion pack, in terms of the number of areas you could explore, the various locations the main story took you to, and especially the amount of sidequests that we had implemented.

The second reason was our commitment to quality. Our team members have learned valuable lessons over the years from creating their own popular modules, and have built on this knowledge even further during Daggerford's development. Their great experience, coupled with my own experience of leading the Baldur's Gate II expansion team, meant that we were in an excellent position to create a very enjoyable and successful game. This is how we are able to make high quality games here at Ossian Studios.

There are plenty of things that should make Daggerford stand out as something very special, but here is a quick feature list:

- A 25-30 hour classic Dungeons & Dragons role-playing adventure with a strong Baldur's Gate feel and almost 200,000 words of dialogue!

- A brand new world map system, never before seen in Neverwinter Nights, enabling the player to better explore a large world, complete with random encounters.

- A player stronghold to enable more challenging stronghold quests, and featuring cool player customization features.

- Three new TNO tilesets created by DLA and released to Ossian Studios through an exclusive agreement with BioWare, including a completely new exterior tileset with rolling hills, sea cliffs, and castles.

4) What was the inspiration for the module?

When I started the Daggerford project, my inspiration was very clear: I wanted to recreate some of what originally attracted me to playing Baldur's Gate I. That was a game so large to explore and filled with dozens of sidequests, that it really made me feel like the world was alive all around me. Creating RPGs like that is why I went to work for BioWare in the first place.

I found that Neverwinter missed out on doing some of the great things that players loved from the Baldur's Gate series, so my intent was to develop these for our game. Things like the world map and the stronghold are a couple of examples. The rationale behind the world map was to be able to show the world as one expansive and continuous place, instead of a number of linked areas that you could travel between using a conversation. And having a place that you could call your own, decorate, and where odd characters would turn up at your door (including talking chickens!) was the basis behind having the stronghold. Additionally, two of our core writers (Luspr and Lord Alex) are huge Baldur's Gate fans, and sought to create many very colourful characters, so that the world is filled with plenty of entertaining NPC interaction.

5) What were some of the obstacles you faced in creating the module?

I think THE biggest obstacle during development was the realization that we had created a world so large that it then needed to be filled with more content than we had originally anticipated. How much work it would actually take was a sizeable hurdle to get over, yet we absolutely wanted to stick to our original vision while maintaining high quality levels. It took a lot of time and work, but we're very happy with the final result, and we're especially proud of our team for accomplishing so much and doing such an excellent job!

6) What setting does the module take place in?

Darkness over Daggerford is set in the Forgotten Realms, in a small town along the ever-popular Sword Coast. Aside from the town of Daggerford, players will be able to venture into infamous locales such as the Lizard Marsh and the Trollbark Forest.

7) How many hours of gameplay can the average player get?

Based on what the dev and beta teams have been finding in their play-throughs, we are estimating that players can expect between 25-30 hours of gameplay if they play the critical path as well as all the sidequests. Half the fun, of course, is delving deeper into the intrigue of the central storyline, but the other half is meeting the many characters in the game and becoming involved in their predicaments. Alazander (one of our beta testers) couldn't help but become totally absorbed in the sidequests at one point, getting completely sidetracked from the critical path. It was actually great to see because it helped to confirm that we had succeeded in making the world and its inhabitants riveting and entertaining.

8) How challenging is the module and what kind of characters are recommended?

There is no restriction on allowable character classes - the player can choose whatever they are most comfortable with. The game starts players at level 8, as this is the baseline for starting the adventure. You can of course enter the game with a brand new level 1 character, but the game will automatically level you up and give you some good starting equipment according to your class.

However, we also wanted to be able to handle any level of character above level 8, in order to dynamically accommodate players as they leveled up throughout the game. So our Lead Technical Designer (Codepoetz) developed a brand new custom spawning/scaling system for encounters, called "Poetic Justice" (PJ for short). This afforded us a great deal of flexibility when designing the challenge flow of the game, avoiding the scenarios where encounters were either too easy or too hard. With a world that could be explored in a non-linear fashion, dynamic scaling was an essential system to have. Not only does PJ factor in the player's level when creating an encounter, but it also factors in whether there are henchmen in the party. So the game should always remain challenging for everyone from beginning to end, no matter how they play it.

9) What is the Dungeon Master support and multiplayer options?

Darkness over Daggerford is a very tailored single player experience, which was our intent from the start, so there is no multiplayer or DM support.

10) Anything else you'd like to say?

Oh, yes, I have a few thoughts on my mind as we unleash Darkness over Daggerford into the NWN community. :-)

Firstly, I have to say that it is truly a shame Daggerford was not released as a BioWare Premium Module. I say this with conviction because it really is a great adventure in the BioWare tradition of RPGs (and having worked at BioWare to develop them firsthand, I would know). All of our team - people who have poured their heart and soul into the project for an entire year - were disappointed, to say the least, because it felt so unfair. I think a fantastic opportunity was missed out on, considering the large, expansion-sized scope and high quality of the game. On the positive side though, the entire community will now get to play Darkness over Daggerford for FREE! :-)

Secondly, we want to congratulate our entire Daggerford team on the astounding work they did on the project. They are an extremely talented group of people with a passion for making role-playing games. It is their long hours of hard work that have helped to make Darkness over Daggerford the amazing game that it is! The amount of creative talent in the NWN community is truly impressive, and Ossian Studios is always interested in hearing from those who are passionate about making the best possible RPGs.

Lastly, we can't wait to start work on our next title with our terrific development team! We accomplished some great things with Daggerford, and I'm sure we will accomplish even greater things in the future.

Thanks to Alan for taking the time to answer our questions and we'll have more on Darkness over Daggerford in the coming days.

Comments (1):

Posted by AZVaquero at 2007-07-31 16:47:08    Voted 9.75 on 07/31/07
I've finished Darkness over Daggerford and throughly enjoyed it! More so than Kingmaker. Mr Miranda has done an excellent job. For all of you, You must try this mod. It has a certain Baldur's Gate feel (without a doubt). Plenty of side quests, excellent visuals, a little more NPC building. Superb visuals. Excellent, excellent story!! Play it for the story!! You will enjoy it!

Best Regards,


Durned Elf..

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