Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir Interview

Rock, Paper, Shotgun is next in line with a Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir interview with producer Kevin Saunders.
RPS: With its full party customisation approach, it seems to owe more to things like Icewind Dale and even older RPGs (Gold Box and earlier, to Bard's Tale and similar). Most modern party based games go for the pregenerated NPC character model, making it a rarity in the modern marketplace. Why did you choose to re-explore this terrain? What strengths does this kind of approach offer which the pregenerated NPC model loses?

Kevin Saunders: With this approach, you completely own your character(s). This complete customization of who your alter ego is at the core of what pencil-and-paper role-playing is all about. For me personally - and I suspect this is true for many - my first memory of role-playing is creating my character. I was five and my older brother (9) had bought the Basic D&D book - the red set with the warrior slashing at a red dragon on the cover. I chose a halfling - probably because I was about that size - who I creatively named Nivek. I don't even remember what adventures he went on, but I do remember him. With a pregenerated character, you lose that magical sense of ownership that's at the core of role-playing.

There are major trade-offs in making a game that allows character customization. The amount of work required is staggering. Armor, weapons, attack animations, etc. must all be adapted to work with each race. The story must be flexible enough to embrace a wide variety of characters. And there are many other considerations: once you let the player create their own character, you set many expectations that are challenging to meet. It's much easier to create a great game with a specific character/role the player fills - that's part of why so many games go that route. The problems can compound when you're talking about an entire party instead of a single character. But it's not what D&D and the Neverwinter Nights 2 franchises are about.

Obsidian's past games have given great customizability in terms of your character. With Storm of Zehir, we wanted to expand that to an entire party (as was done in the older CRPGs you mention).


RPS: Heh. Okay - what sort of strengths does the new exploration map offer?

Kevin: We initially experimented with the Overland Map as a novelty. Toward the end of Mask of the Betrayer, designers Eric Fenstermaker and Jeff Husges played around with the idea a bit just to see what would be possible. As the feature developed (primarily through the work of both Jeff and Nathaniel Chapman), we realized how much value it could add to the game.

The first appeal of the Overland Map was the exploration aspect and how it would support a more open-ended type game. We wanted Storm of Zehir to still be story-driven, but to allow more flexibility and be less linear than Neverwinter Nights 2 and Mask of the Betrayer (MotB). Having a world to wander around was a great way to embrace this direction. And, as you've noted already, the exploration aspect embraces some of the classic D&D and CRPG feel that hasn't been emphasized in a Neverwinter Nights game before.

The Overland Map also freed us artistically. Neverwinter Nights 2 and Mask of the Betrayer established a fairly realistic artistic style. While we're increasing pleased with the areas we've been able to create, because the Overland Map is its own (mode) we could stretch our artistic creativity further and develop a different style and feel for it.

Another benefit from the Overland Map has been our D&D rules implementation. We've never been thrilled with the role Skills have played in Neverwinter Nights games. They are not as well integrated into the gameplay as we would have liked. On the Overland Map, skills like Spot, Survival, and Listen could all be given gameplay effects that would be fun and interesting, clear to the player, and more faithful to their D&D implementation.

Good stuff.