Bitmob has published a long but excellent interview with Obsidian Entertainment's Feargus Urquhart, Chris Avellone, Rob McGinnis, Richard Taylor, George Zeits, and Scott Everts about the development of Neverwinter Nights 2, the goals they had with Mask of the Betrayer and Storm of Zehir, what their future plans are for the game, and much more. A sampling:
Bitmob: Mask of the Betrayer's story drew a great deal of praise. What was different between the story development of the original campaign and the first expansion?
George Zeits: For one thing, MOTB was a lot shorter, and we had a much better sense of how much work we could actually get done in the time that we had. I wasn't at Obsidian during the initial story development for NWN2, but I think the game suffered a great deal from overambition -- the original storyline was massive, and a huge amount of material had to be cut from the final game. As a result, the final product was less polished and the storyline was messier than they should have been.
By the time we started MOTB, though, we were veterans. In fact, three of the four core content designers on MOTB -- Jeff Husges, Eric Fenstermaker, and me -- were NWN2's Act 2 team, and we'd all worked in the same office. I was able to write a story for MOTB that had a much more realistic scope, given our schedule and rate of content creation.
We still had to cut some content, but not so much that the core storyline had to be gutted or rewritten.
RT: In Mask of the Betrayer, we had a dedicated story writer on the team. He took ownership over the story and the major characters, taking care to write a lot of their dialogues and review the dialogues written by others to make sure that the characters were consistently portrayed.
On the original campaign, the responsibility for the overall story was just one of many responsibilities resting on the shoulders of the lead designer, which meant that it didn't get as much focused attention as we were able to give it on Mask of the Betrayer. We were happy with [how] having a dedicated story designer worked out on Mask of the Betrayer.
Bitmob: What are some of Obsidian's regrets about NWN2? Were there any storylines or concepts left out that could find themselves into future expansions or other Obsidian products?
GZ: In MOTB, I wish we could have done more with the main town/hub, Mulsantir. I had written a design document for that module that was, like, 100 pages long, which is ridiculous, in retrospect, but...I really liked that town and the whole Elizabethan theater-troupe setting at the Veil.
We had originally planned to include a lot more quest content dealing with the conflict between the two competing theater troupes, Veil vs. Sloop. I think some info about this eventually made it onto the Web -- the main quest was going to be called Patron of the Arts, with the player in the central role as patron of one of the two theaters. Our idea for the culmination of that quest would have been pretty neat, and I think that it could find its way into a future project...so I'd better not say any more about it.
Probably my biggest regret was the same as most players -- namely, that the [player] couldn't ultimately bring down the Wall of the Faithless. That situation arose because of the general [Wizards of the Coast] rule that CRPGs can't make major changes to the Realms. But since the Realms changed significantly in [D&D] 4.0 and the Wall is now gone, I wish we'd talked more to WOTC about that. I have a feeling that they may have allowed us to kill the Wall, since they already knew what was in store for the Realms.
Of course, I could be wrong...and at the time, I had no way of knowing that the world was going to change so drastically...but it would have been worth a shot.
SE: Time is always our biggest enemy. The original game had a big team, and it was a big game. When it came time to do the first expansion, we had a much smaller group. This is normal for expansions, and we made sure to have a very careful schedule since we couldn't afford any delays.
The game focused on a tighter story and fewer maps that were done at a higher quality level. We were very conservative on our goals since we wanted plenty of polish time. Even with the inevitable delays, we got it done on time and with a level of polish we were proud of.
When it became time to design Storm, we were less conservative on the design but also had an even smaller team. We wanted to add several new systems to the game plus go in a new direction. Management was happy with our proposal, so we started work. But it was certainly tougher since our new design was very ambitious.
The team worked very hard, and we pushed the art to an even higher standard, plus created two new overland maps with a totally new art style. But you can always use more time and we had less flexibility on Storm for changes then we had on Mask.
Looking back, we probably made Storm too different then our other games. People missed the companions and stronger story we had before. I think the overland map was cool, but it took a tremendous amount of extra time to implement. I've found over the years from working on many games that fans don't like radical departures from the normal game in their expansions.
If we had focused on a strong story and dialogue-heavy companions, the expansion might have been better received.