GB: Why was the decision made to deviate from other Infinity Engine games (where all loot was static) and implement random loot tables into the Icewind Dale series?
Josh: The Icewind Dale games were very linear, so we wanted something to help with re-play value, especially since people could make a wide array of parties. The original Icewind Dale game had a really wide spectrum of random loot. There were many unique items (usually weapons or suits or armor) that were stuck in a randomized list with three or four other unique items.
We ran into a lot of balancing problems and we also had to deal with the fact that many parties simply couldn’t be equipped well with certain random drops. By Icewind Dale 2, we generally used random loot tables for less powerful items. We put the more powerful unique items in stores or as static drops in chests/on bosses.
GB: Why did you choose to develop the series in the northermost arctic reaches of the Sword Coast? Were any other regions in the Forgotten Realms considered before development began?
Josh: Bob Salvatore’s Icewind Dale books made Icewind Dale extremely popular and the region was a great contrast to the southern Sword Coast. Very early on (before I came onto the project), Matt Norton had suggested having Larloch (of Warlock’s Crypt and Minor Drain fame) as the big bad guy. I thought the idea of running around the Warlock’s Crypt area of the Sword Coast (near Lathtarl’s Lantern and other crummy dumps where my college 2nd Ed. group played) would have been neat, but setting it in Icewind Dale made a lot more sense.
GB: The campaign in Heart of Winter was criticized for being too short, which led to the release of a downloadable add-on called Trials of the Luremaster. Did you originally intend to include this content with HoW or was it developed specifically in response to such criticism? Was it difficult to convince Interplay that a free add-on was necessary?
Josh: The content was specifically developed as a response to criticisms about HoW’s length. When HoW was under development, we had few art resources available to us; most of Black Isle’s artists were working on Torn at the time. We knew that the expansion was going to be short, but to be honest, a lot of us believed the game was going to retail for $20. Instead it retailed for $30, which made its short length even more irritating to players. Most of Trials’ content was developed by Steve Bokkes. I think it turned out better than the retail expansion and helped make HoW a good product, finally.
I’m not sure Feargus had a difficult time convincing IPLY execs that it had to be done; he protected us behind the Black Shield.
GB: Why did you choose to put most of your development efforts into an Icewind Dale sequel rather than finishing Fallout 3/Van Buren or The Black Hound/Jefferson?
Josh: Both of those titles were using technology that was under development. Interplay wanted Icewind Dale 2 in four months. Finishing The Black Hound would have been impossible in that time frame. Creating an Icewind Dale sequel in that time frame was also impossible, but it was less impossible.
GB: How much work was it for you personally to help in the implementation of the 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons rules into BioWare's Infinity Engine for Icewind Dale II? Do you think the conversion was necessary and worth the time?
Josh: I was not a programmer on any of the titles, but I was the designer who worked almost exclusively with the game play programmers on rule implementation. I fought for 3E conversion from the beginning of the project all the way through to the end because I believed it was one of the few things that could make people look at another Infinity Engine game.
Rich Finegan and I focused very heavily on converting all of the stat bonuses over to use proper 3E bonus types and stacking rules. This included modifying all of the spells and items to follow that convention as well, which was an enormous amount of work for us and for technical designer Jason Suinn.
Darren, Danien, and Bernie worked on a bunch of skills and feats, the latter of which basically cannibalized the proficiency data with a bunch of custom code for individual feats. I still take a great deal of pride in the fact that Danien and I figured out how to make true 3E multiclassing work in the Infinity Engine. I think it added a tremendous amount of flexibility to the game.