Obsidian Entertainment designer Josh Sawyer is now a member of social website formspring.me, and has used the platform to start answering several dozen questions from the community. So far, he's talked about the cancellation of Baldur's Gate III and Aliens: Crucible, why he had to stop development of The Black Hound project, his disappointment with some aspects of Icewind Dale II, and much more. A few excerpts:
Picking up on your comment re. the Aliens RPG: Why do you suppose that fantasy is such a dominant setting for RPGs (both PnP and CRPG)? What other settings (be it genres or even IP's) do you think would benefit from RPG "treatment," and why? Thanks, No Mutants Allowed.
Fantasy was the style of most early tabletop RPGs, and early CRPGs mostly just followed suit. Ultima, Bard's Tale, Phantasie, Wizardry, and Might & Magic, were the big CRPGs that defined the genre in the early- to mid-80s and they were all high fantasy. In the late 80s and early 90s, there was more high-profile experimentation with different RPG genres (Wasteland, Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday), but even today non-fantasy CRPGs are still the exception rather than the rule.
Personally, I think that almost any type of setting could work for a CRPG. Western, transhuman future, whatever. As long as there are characters with whom the player can interact, meaningful choices to be made, and character development, it could work as a CRPG.
Thief: The Dark Project came out in 1998 (!). Why d'you reckon that in the 12 years since, no RPG developer has been able to incorporate stealth mechanics to the same degree of success? Is this issue really as simple as player skill v. character skill?
Thief was a dedicated stealth game. Unfortunately, I believe most RPG developers either don't consider stealth to be worth implementing at all or only worth implementing in a minimalist fashion. It's a shame, because I don't believe that the fundamental mechanics of Thief are tremendously difficult to implement in a lot of engines.
Do you think computer roleplaying games can go back to the simpler and more focused style they had when Wizardry, Might & Magic, or Pool of Radiance were popular? Do you feel the kitchen sink approach has really stretched content and variety today?
I think that CRPGs are now defined heavily by how they allow the player to express the personality of their character(s) in meaningful ways throughout the game. In that sense, I don't think the genre will ever move back to the Wizardry/Might and Magic era. However, I do think that games with top-down/isometric combat (like the gold box games) can still be viable in some markets.