Icewind Dale/Icewind Dale II Interview

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Icewind Dale was released on June 29th, 2000 (the same day as Diablo II), making it nearly seven years old at the time of this writing. Black Isle Studios followed it up with the Heart of Winter expansion pack on February 19th, 2001, the Trials of the Luremaster add-on on July 5th, 2001, and a full sequel on September 4th, 2002.  To pay tribute to yet another amazing Infinity Engine series, we fired over a set of questions to three of the key Icewind Dale developers - Josh Sawyer (designer on Icewind Dale and Heart of Winter, lead designer on Icewind Dale II), Chris Parker (producer on Icewind Dale, designer on Icewind Dale II), and Scott Everts (technical designer on Icewind Dale, Heart of Winter, and Icewind Dale II). Scott Everts brings our revisited feature to a close:

GB: Tell us a bit about yourself and your role during the development of Icewind Dale, Heart of Winter, and Icewind Dale II.

Scott: I started working at Interplay in 1991. My first job was a tester on Star Trek: 25th Anniversary. I was promoted to designer on the CD version and Associate Producer on Star Trek: Judgment Rites. After that I worked on various games like Stonekeep & Shadoan before switching to Fallout. At the time Fallout had no level designers since they were planning to have the designers do it. But they realized they needed someone with an artistic eye for level layout so they gave me a shot and liked what I did. So I ended up doing all the levels in the game! I moved on to Fallout 2 and did about 30% of the levels sharing the duties with John Deiley and Jason Suinn. When Icewind Dale started up it required a huge amount of art. Since it didn't use a tile system like the Fallout series it required many pre-rendered backgrounds. Plus tons of new monsters. This was before 3D graphics were sophisticated enough to do games like this. With so much art being made they needed someone to process and plug it into the game. So I managed all the art resources. We had a bunch of very complex Debabelizer scripts and work in Photoshop to get all the art shoehorned into the game. I also did art touchup and minor fixes. I did this for all the Icewind games and Planescape Torment. On Icewind Dale II I also designed and implemented the all new interface. Brian Menze concepted the art style, Aaron Brown did all the art rendering based on my designs and I implemented them using a special interface editor.

Currently I'm working at Obsidian Entertainment. I did level design for Neverwinter Nights 2 and currently working on an unannounced title. I also worked on interface design on Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 2.

GB: What was it like to be a part of the development team for each of these projects? Any fond memories you can share with us?

Scott: That's a hard question since I've worked on so many games and they all tend to blur together!

Working in Black Isle Studios was fantastic. We did a string of great games and had amazing people there working on them. Another great thing was there was little employee turnover so we all got very comfortable working with each other on title after title. Of course it wasn't all wonderful. As BIS was becoming more successful Interplay was slowly falling apart. After awhile BIS titles were one of the few things keeping Interplay alive and so the pressure was very high on getting titles out on time. So many late nights and tight schedules became the norm. Icewind Dale II was the worst since the original schedule was amazingly short. It turned out to be a great game but sales weren't as high as hoped since I think the fanbase was tired of Infinity Engine games. So we started working on 3D titles but when Titus took over they decided PC games weren't the direction they wanted to go so BIS passed away quietly in the night. Or a Monday morning I think. J

As for memories, here's a few random ones that surfaced-

I remember having my first Krispy Kreme donut during development on Icewind. Our division head's wife went out and bought a huge number of the donuts and we all went nuts. Think I had 4 myself! We all were bouncing off the walls for hours afterwards.

I remember Darren Monahan (Icewind 2 producer) cringing every time I headed to his office. He'd sometimes sneak out when he thought I was going to come by. Since he was a programmer I used to bother him incessantly about all my wild ideas for new interface changes that I thought would be cool.

Darren used to tease me that he'd replace me with a button. One of my main jobs was to run the art batches in Debabelizer. It took so long I eventually got a second computer otherwise I'd just be sitting there reading a book while it ran and ran and ran! He figured he could just use a button instead but I told him that someone still had to setup all the files and make sure they worked so he was stuck with me!

There was a great bug I found on a level that spawned skeletons. Unfortunately it would get stuck and keep spawning them until the entire map was full wall to wall with hundreds of skeletons!