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). Up first is Josh Sawyer:

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

Josh: I started as a website designer at Interplay, when Icewind Dale was still Chris Parker's (Dungeon Crawler) project. After it became Icewind Dale, I started doing web design for it and prodding Feargus to let me do junior design work. I eventually transitioned over to a full-time junior design position on the original game. I was a designer on Heart of Winter and Trials of the Luremaster and the lead designer on Icewind Dale 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?

Josh: Icewind Dale was fantastic for me because I had somehow stumbled into my dream job.  I didn't know anything about CRPG development, but I knew more about AD&D and the Forgotten Realms than anyone outside of TSR/WotC should.  We didn't have any leads on the original title, so we sort of just... did things... with Chris Parker telling us when we were being dumb.

Scott Warner (the designer of Upper Dorn's Deep) and I will always remember Greedy Ghost, which is referenced to this day.  Someone (who shall remain nameless) asked why the dwarf priest ghost in Upper Dorn's didn't charge the party for healing services.  Scott and I explained that it was a ghost and ghosts don't have any need for money.  That Someone then replied, (Maybe he's a greedy ghost.)

After Icewind Dale shipped, Feargus forwarded us an e-mail from Brian Fargo in which he said that he really enjoyed Icewind Dale and it was the first game in years that he had finished.  I knew Icewind Dale was a flawed game, but I grew up on Bard's Tale, so that meant a lot to me.

I was also pretty happy when we finally got most of the major 3E stuff into Icewind Dale 2.  Danien Chee, Bernie Weir, Rich (Malavon) Finegan, and Darren Monahan really gutted a lot of the Infinity Engine's game logic to make 3E work in it, and I think our implementation of the rule set was fantastic.

GB: Which CRPGs would you say inspired you and/or provided the most influence during the development of Icewind Dale and its sequel?

Josh: Personally, I was inspired by many of the old party-based dungeon crawlers like Bard's Tale, Pool of Radiance, Wizardry, and Phantasie.  It's a pretty basic concept: just a party of tough dudes vs. hordes of varied enemies in neat environments.  We always tried to have good stories at the core of the gameplay, but ultimately the PCs (and companions, through omission) were less of a story focus than they were in the Baldur's Gate games.

GB: How familiar were you with the Icewind Dale region of the Forgotten Realms before working on the series? Did you end up having to do a lot of research for either game?

Josh: I was very familiar with the setting, having read all of Bob Salvatore's Icewind Dale and Dark Elf books.  I also played a lot of AD&D in college just prior to coming to Interplay, so I was able to dive right in.